Blue Vein Society
By Don Valentine
Vanessa Williams could be the marque image for the “Blue Vein Society.”
In the late 1800’s, after emancipation, Blacks evolved into another skin caste era.
During slavery the lighter skin Blacks were considered smarter and more reliable.
That aspect was a selling point at slave auctions. This reputation was why those Blacks got to work in the “House.” That separation was the birth of Colorism.
Colorism is defined by Merriam Webster as “pre-judice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin.” The Urban dictionary defines it as “The discrimination of African Americans by Skin Tone in their own community, usually subconsciously done, as most Blacks don’t realize they’re doing it.”
The “Blue Vein Society” began as the freed slaves migrated north to cities like New York, Chicago and Washington DC. The lighter skinned freed slaves, mostly had a lineage to a White parents. This anchored the myth of being superior to darker Blacks.
This actual organization had a very strict rule about how you could belong/participate in their posh groupings. If your skin was not white enough to show your “Blue Veins” you could not participate. Black social segregation was very prevalent after the war. It prompted the Atlantic Monthly Magazine to publish a commentary about it in their July issue 1898. It was a review of the seminal book on colorism, “The Wife Of His Youth” by Charles Chestnut.
In the early 1900s Blacks became college educated and created a middle class. Colorism escalated in a prodigious manner. It went from being excluded from certain restaurants and clubs, to exclusion from panhellenic life. The first Black fraternity (Alpha Phi Alpha 1906) and the first Black sorority (Alpha Kappa Alpha 1908) were very stringent on this rule for joining. The rejected dark skin candidates opposed this treatment and formed their own Greek organization. Kappa Alpha Psi (1911), Omega Psi Phi (1911) and Delta Sigma Theta (1913) to name a few of the branches of the Black Greek tree.
Colorism is described in colloquial terms as “Bougie.” The Urban dictionary defines it as “Aspiring to be a higher class than one is. Derived from bourgeois – meaning middle/upper class, traditionally despised… In modern-day English, someone who is bougie is creating an air of wealth or upper class status — whether it’s true or not.”
The “Blue Veined Society” was the predecessor to the “Brown Paper Bag Test.” If you were darker than a paper bag then you got excluded from places. It still manifests in Black communities now. Terms such as “he/she has good hair” or “light, bright, nearly white.” These are all progenies of the plantation caste that created the “Blue Vein Society.”