And, oh, here's King Mswati III of Swaziland testing underaged girls for possible brides.
Nobody likes tests. Not even that weird kid in third-period Biology who insists she does. She just wants attention and enjoys being contrarian. No, tests are universally reviled. But we need them. Without tests, how do we know if somebody has read the manual, is ready to drive, or is simply better than everybody else? That last one might seem out of place, but some tests are more sinister than others ...
In the late-1970s, the United Kingdom needed a better way to keep out filthy immigrants. Though on paper, the law allowed female immigrants to travel to Great Britain to marry their fiances, an unspoken rule allowed immigration officials at Heathrow Airport to subject them to "virginity tests" first -- ones so invasive they've been described as "tantamount to rape." More than 80 Indian and Pakistani women underwent these violations, all on suspicion that they were already married (in which case they would need a visa). And you thought taking your shoes off in the security line was a pain in the ass.
Thankfully, complaints to the UN brought a swift end to the practice ... in the U.K. As recently as 2009, participants in a mass wedding -- a common practice for less-than-affluent folk in India -- were forced to prove their purity to government gropers. In Egypt, female prisoners had forced virginity tests as recently as 2011, while South Africa is fighting an ongoing battle against virginity testing, and even more far-fetched beliefs -- such as sex with a virgin being a magical cure for AIDS. We're going to go ahead and assume the virgins didn't start that particular rumor.
Today, "lollapalooza" means "overrated bands and the world's most expensive bottled water," but the word originally meant "a particularly impressive thing." In World War II, the word was used by American troops in the Pacific Theatre to suss out suspected Japanese spies -- the idea being that native Japanese speakers often pronounce the English letters "r" and "l" similarly, so for them "lollapalooza" was a bona-fide linguistic impossibility.
Over on the European front of WWII, British soldiers employed a similar method -- the phrase "War Weapons Week," sometimes answered with the countersign "Weymouth" -- to spot Germans, based on their tendency to pronounce the English "w" sound as a "v." It's a tradition that dates clear back to the Bible, which tells of the Gileadites quizzing the Ephraimites on their pronunciation of the word shibboleth (ear of corn) ... and then wholesale slaughtering tens of thousands of them who said it wrong. Today the word "shibboleth" means several things; one common definition is a word or custom used to distinguish members of different social groups.
One particularly horrific utilization of a shibboleth took place on the island of Hispaniola, where the Dominican Republic and Haiti coexist, albeit very, very reluctantly. Back in 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo sent troops along the Dominican-Haitian border with a sprig of parsley in hand, asking anyone whose skin looked a bit too dark to state its name. Haitians -- whose heritage was French, unlike the Dominicans' Spanish -- couldn't adequately roll the "r" in the Spanish word for parsley, perejil. And that's the cute-sounding lead-up to the event that history dubbed the Parsley Massacre.
via Wiki Commons
Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes a "bag party" thusly: "Some of the brothers who came from New Orleans held a bag party. As a classmate explained it to me, a bag party was a New Orleans custom wherein a brown paper bag was stuck on the door. Anyone darker than the bag was denied entrance."
The tradition thankfully went out of style with the decline of colorism and the rise of plastic shopping bags. Unfortunately, it's not the only way household items have promoted racism. In apartheid-era South Africa, the Population Registration Act divided citizens into four groups of descending importance: "whites, Asians/Indians, coloureds and 'natives' or blacks." In borderline cases, officials employed the "pencil test." A pencil was stuck in your hair. If it stayed, you were black. If it fell out, you were white. Never before have we so harshly penalized body and volume.
When the Australian parliament passed the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, it kicked off the so-called White Australia policy -- a series of restrictions intended to keep the land down under from sporting too nice a tan. Prime Minister Edmund Barton says it best:
I do not think either that the doctrine of the equality of man was really ever intended to include racial equality. There is no racial equality. There is basic inequality. These races are, in comparison with white races -- I think no one wants convincing of this fact -- unequal and inferior. The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman.
Central to the Act was the dictation test: If you were a non-European person seeking entry into Australia, you were asked to write out 50 words in any European language before being allowed entry. When it became apparent that this wasn't the most effective way to discriminate against Jews and Commies -- many of whom, annoyingly, spoke European languages -- an amendment in 1905 made it possible for the immigration officer in charge of the test to choose any European language he damn well pleased.
Enter Holocaust-surviving Jewish communist, prolific writer, and (particularly problematic for Australia's immigration policy) polyglot Egon Kisch. When, after trying several other languages, immigration officers finally tasked him with writing out the Lord's Prayer in Scots Gaelic -- a double-dick move considering Kisch was neither Scottish nor Christian -- he couldn't do it. Problem was, Kisch had a powerful legal team behind him. After proving to the High Court that the officer assigning the test was not, himself, proficient in Scots Gaelic, Kisch entered the country for his intended purpose: to go on tour, speaking out against fascism, war, and concentration camps. Because Australia needed help looking bad, here.
While the law may not always be strictly enforced, the Lebanese penal code prohibits any sexual act that "contradicts the laws of nature." (Translation: you can get prison time for doing butt stuff in Lebanon.) It sounds like that could be difficult to prove in court, but luckily Lebanese authorities have pseudoscience on their side: the butthole exams -- aka anal laxity tests, an utterly dubious method which involves literally probing a suspected homosexual man's bedroom habits.
Back when the Cold War was keeping Canada even brisker than usual, their government feared that closeted gays in military or civil service were a risk to national security. To aid in a purge of such elements, Canadian authorities employed the shamelessly named "fruit machine." Developed by psychologist Frank Robert Wake, the fruit machine strapped in its subject and forced him to watch gay porn while measuring pupil dilation, pulse, and perspiration, in search of an erotic response.
Honestly, it sounds like an awfully roundabout way to check for a boner.
Czechoslovakia was more direct, where up until 2011, authorities went straight for the dong to verify claims of those seeking asylum from less-LGBT friendly homelands. Before an EU court eventually ruled against the practice of boner-spotting, Czech authorities relied on phallometric testing, which basically amounted to having subjects watch gay porn with a blood pressure cuff strapped onto ol' Mr. Peter Tallywhacker.
Eyap has written three books; a historical novella, a short story collection, and a horror thriller.
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