“United we stand, divided we fall." Truer words have never been spoken, especially as it deals with intraracial discrimination.. This is a problem that many in the black community are afraid to discuss, because it resembles airing "dirty laundry." However, unless this is discussed, there's no way blacks can effectively address racial discrimination against them by the rest of society.

Because of superficial differences in skin color, many blacks turn on each other, forming cliques when they should instead be concentrating their energy on fighting those threatening to take away hard-won rights. It seems that while we decry racism based on skin color, we are actually guilty of perpetuating it ourselves. But instead of sweeping this under the rug, we should start dealing with this unacceptable problem.

Intraracial discrimination has much of its roots in how some blacks incorporate the European ideal of beauty into their thinking. I know black women who spend hours trying to straighten their hair and lighten their complexion, while some black men use chemicals in their hair to smooth it out. Some black parents reinforce this view by telling their children to marry someone with "good hair" and light skin rather than the beautiful darker sister or brother with "nappy" hair and full lips. The excuse I have heard consistently from parents is: "We want beautiful children" – as though dark children are naturally ugly.

But what makes intraracial preference so heinous is not solely the perception of beauty, but the false idea some blacks have that beauty equals intelligence. In my experience, darker-skinned blacks have been associated with having lower intelligence than lighter-skinned blacks. I read an article in which Gwenetta Drewery, a North Carolina high school junior, wrote in her school newspaper that "light-skinned blacks feel that she did not know as much as they did." (http://www.jordan.dpsnc.net/fc/feb1999/colorism.html)

If our own prejudices against each other aren't bad enough, this country's entertainment industry only makes matters worse. In the movies and on television, black hoodlums are usually dark, brooding characters. And while such dark black men as Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes have also portrayed heroes, the fact remains that few "bad men" are light-skinned blacks. Instead, they play the parts of police officers, scientists and doctors. This also applies to female actors, since the beautiful black heroine is rarely dark.

Meanwhile, as some light-skinned blacks might feel intellectually superior, some dark-skinned blacks feel that their lighter brothers and sisters are less than pure. Although this use of skin tone as an "acid test" of racial solidarity is ludicrous, it is nevertheless used quite extensively – possibly as a defense against those same lighter-skinned "intellectuals" who believe that skin color makes them smarter.

The racist does not need to use a blatant attack to defeat us anymore; the "divide and conquer" strategy the black community has used to destroy itself has worked like a charm. Instead of concentrating on racial inequality, many blacks worry about being "down for the hood" (if darker-skinned) or "making it in society" (if lighter-skinned).

Sadly, this division has permeated the nuclear family. Parents differentiate their children based on skin color, allowing siblings to pick up and act on their parents' beliefs. In her book "The Last Plantation," journalist Itabari Njeri tells a story in which Gloria, a dark-skinned woman, was continually taunted with the N-word by her lighter-skinned grandmother and cousins; this was the foundation of many emotional scars.

Conversely, lighter-skinned siblings may become hypersensitive to criticism that they may not be "black" enough. Njeri wrote that one of her cousins bought into the Harlem street life to prove how black he was – he was gunned down as a result. Why is there so much needless animosity between lighter and darker people of color?

Many black scholars believe that our current feelings regarding skin color has its roots in the days of American slavery. Those who were lighter in skin tone were granted certain privileges, including staying in the master's home instead of doing back-breaking labor. We can see how this led to feelings of superiority among blacks.

The odd thing, though, is that when all was said and done, blacks – both light and dark – were considered three-fifths human. But it does not matter how dark or light I am. It matters that I am part of a culture that has accomplished much in its fight for equality. This is why it makes me sick to my stomach when those who I consider my brothers and sisters use such a superficial yardstick as skin tone to determine acceptance.

Blacks must embrace diversity as equally as they implore others to accept it. As they preach tolerance among those who would denigrate them, blacks must practice it towards their own, regardless of their color or views.

We all have something to bring to the table because being "black" does not mean being a certain color or mindset – it means celebrating the many facets that make the black community a tower of strength. Otherwise, how can blacks call other people racists when we effectively practice racism against our own people? To me, this would make us hypocrites, which is much worse.

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