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The Paper Bag Principle: Of the Myth and the Motion of Colorism

From: Journal of American Folklore
Volume 118, Number 469, Summer 2005
pp. 271-289 | 10.1353/jaf.2005.0031


This article, extracted from a larger study, is attentive to the national folk culture of African-American communities—especially rumor and legend—in a number of city centers. The study begins with Washington, D.C., as a representative model to examine the role of complexion-related lore in black neighborhoods, organizations, and institutions, and then extends outward to other urban areas. Complexion lore, the article argues, functioned as a sophisticated negotiation of racism, wherein black residents complicated American urban principles of inclusion and exclusion by integrating color notions into institutional oral history.