Back in the day, there was this ludicrous and highly offensive fragment of racial discrimination in the America called the “brown paper bag test”. A regular standard brown paper bag, the same kind you make fake wasps nests out of, was used as a way to determine whether or not an individual could have certain privileges – only individuals with a skin color lighter than the bag were allowed. You’d see the paper bags outside of racist barbershops, next to racist water fountains, and most frequently hanging above the porch of party-throwers.

Now my grandfather, Josiah Otto Smith, was once an executive with the Columbia Paper Bag Company, the largest manufacturer of such bags in the country. When he got wind of how his company’s product was being used, he vowed to end racism altogether, a lofty if not impossible passion.

Now the board of directors was mostly a bunch of pale-skinned bigots, who didn’t necessarily mind the “separation game”, as they called it, and cared only about these sacks of bags that were flying off the shelves, since they quickly turned into sacks of money with dollar signs on them.

But Shifty Shwifty Schindler Joe, as my grandfather was later to be monikered, began sneaking ever-so-slightly darker dyes into the machines at all his factories, with the help of like-minded employees.

The brown paper bag test continued to be used, but suddenly a few more people were passing it. So Josiah and his minions kept adding these almost imperceptibly pigments into the production process, slowly darkening the definitive paper bag, until the darkest person in the country was still lighter than their paper bags. Barely anyone knew how it happened, but it got to a point where nobody was denied anything because of the color of their skin. And once parties were full of melting pot participants, everyone realized that we’re not so different and they all started having a laugh together.

While pushed aside in favor of the more marketable Kings and Parkses, Shifty Joe was a contributing factor in how segregation, and all racism, came to an end. And also why you get your groceries in vantablack paper bags.

[Author’s note: I will sometimes use a different version of the brown paper bag test, but for acceptable beers. I won’t drink stouts or porters, or the dark ales, but the pale ales and lighter are my cup of tea. For the record, I’ve asked several people of different ethnic backgrounds if I should use an alternate litmus, to avoid even alluding to the horrid past of the idea but they all said it’s fine.]

May 11 – Kardinal Offishall gets a shifty historical solution
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