Oh, they’re not obvious to you? That figures, teabagger…
Government workers in the city of Seattle have been advised that the terms “citizen” and “brown bag” are potentially offensive and may no longer be used in official documents and discussions…
“Luckily, we’ve got options,” Elliott Bronstein of the Office for Civil Rights wrote in the memo obtained by the station. “For ‘citizens,’ how about ‘residents?’”
In an interview with Seattle’s KIRO Radio, Bronstein said the term “brown bag” has been used historically as a way to judge skin color.
“For a lot of particularly African-American community members, the phrase brown bag does bring up associations with the past when a brown bag was actually used, I understand, to determine if people’s skin color was light enough to allow admission to an event or to come into a party that was being held in a private home,” Bronstein said.
Incidentally, a brown bag can also be used to hold food that will be eaten later in the day. But this is no longer to be mentioned by employees of Seattle city government.
I was unfamiliar with this “brown bag” practice, being a white person and therefore a racist. But if we’re to trust Wikipedia (and why shouldn’t we?), this is an actual thing that happens in real life:
Brown paper bag test
The phrase “brown paper bag test” has traditionally been used by African Americans throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century with reference to a ritual once practiced by certain African-American sororities and fraternities who would not let anyone into the group whose skin tone was darker than a paper bag. Also known as a paper bag party, these lighter-skinned social circles reflected an idea of exclusion and exclusiveness. The notion of the “paper bag” has carried a complex and obscure meaning in black communities for many decades. The reason for the usage of the “paper bag” is because the color of the paper bag is considered to be the “center” marker of blackness that distinguishes “light skin” from “dark skin” on a continuum stretching infinitely from black to white. Also, the brown paper bag is believed to act as a benchmark for certain levels of acceptance and inclusion. Spike Lee’s film School Daze satirized this practice at historically black colleges and universities. Along with the “paper bag test,” guidelines for acceptance among the lighter ranks included the “comb test” and “pencil test,” which tested the coarseness of one’s hair, and the “flashlight test,” which tested a person’s profile to make sure their features measured up or were close enough to those of the Caucasian race.
So, some black people are racist against other black people, therefore nobody gets to use the phrase “brown bag.” That makes perfect sense.
Are they going to ban “comb,” “pencil,” and “flashlight” next? I’d suggest “hair modification device,” “non-ink-based writing implement,” and “portable illumination thingie.” Still, even those terms might injure the feelings of people who happen to be bald, blind, and/or handless. It’s so easy to forget how much words can hurt.
Come to think of it, shouldn’t all references to all colors be banned? Aren’t they all really the same, deep down? Better safe than sorry.
BTW, the word “citizen” is to be avoided because not all Seattle residents are citizens. You may scoff, but I know how pissed off I’d be if I lived in a country where I wasn’t a citizen and somebody called me a citizen anyway. That’s offensive!!!
I understand now, Kurt Cobain.