Skin-Deep Discrimination

"These groups of people were called Blue Vein societies, because in order to quote "belong," the test of how light you were was could you see your blue veins through your skin? And if they could, you were in," she said.

Some had to pass the "paper bag test" to get into some churches, fraternities and nightclubs. "The paper bag would be held against your skin. And if you were darker than the paper bag, you weren't admitted," Golden said.

"Animosity had to grow out of that unfair relationship. Darker-skinned blacks began to resent light-skinned blacks who were given opportunities to succeed," Browder said.

Hollywood, Music Videos Reinforce Bias

The Black Power movement was supposed to change those attitudes, and it did change some things. Suddenly there were some dark-skinned male stars who played the "hero" -- Richard Roundtree played "Shaft," and other stars followed, like Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, and Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx.

But the acceptance of darker skin seems to apply mostly to the macho guys. The part of the successful, educated black almost always goes to someone with lighter skin.

Actor Mel Jackson says light-skinned men like him tend to get the role of the "business executive."

"If the character's supposed to be more successful or more, more articulate or have a better background, they'll easily cast me in that character," he said.

Actress Wendy Raquel Robinson has noticed the difference. "I've never been offered, you know, the crackhead or the distressed mother," she said. "I play the very upscale, educated young lady," Robinson said. "I do have some peers that are a lot darker than myself. They don't get the opportunities."

For a black actress to become a leading lady, she'd better be light. Or maybe Hispanic, like Eva Mendes, Will Smith's love interest in the current hit, "Hitch." The light-skinned Mendes has played Denzel Washington's wife in two films.

Colorism is especially prevalent in music videos. Kids we talked to on the street noticed that. And said they liked it.

"They all light skinned and they all look good," one boy said. "There's a lot of dark-skinned girls that are pretty, with long hair, bad, but they're not in the videos though, it's just the light-skinned ones that's in the videos," another added.

"The darker the woman takes on what I refer to as a "Ho" complex. She is the prostitute," said Karen a University of Maryland student. "The lighter a woman is, well, she's the goddess. She's the untouchable. She is the woman that all the men in the video aspire to have," she said.

Markita sees it as a straightforward message: "If you want to be successful, this is what you have to do. You have to become more white. You have to assimilate yourself to the standard of beauty," she said.

Golden said we need to "face up to the fact that colorism is still very much with us."

It's one more thing to think about when we talk about a color-blind society.

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