(Mathew Knowles and Tina Knowles-Lawson at a fashion show in Beverly Hills, Calif., in Feb. 2007. [Matt Sayles/AP])

(From the Washington Post) — Racism is a common topic in the mainstream media. But an insidious cousin, colorism, gets less attention. Novelist Alice Walker defined colorism an 1982 essay as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” In other words, it’s the concept of prejudice within a race against someone because of their skin tone. It’s a particularly important and controversial topic in the…

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The concept of colorism dates back as far as chattel slavery in the United States, with its earliest origins emerging as a grotesque outcome of white slave owner rape. As the article suggests, same-race prejudice evolved side by side with racism. It was a learned phenomenon, passed down through the generations and fueled by persistent external forces such as the Black Codes, Jim Crow statutes, and stereotypic misrepresentations of African Americans in media. It was also marked by a condition defined by the Beyond Diversity Resource Center and others as internalized racial oppression. Understanding its often self-defeating mechanisms, both conscious and unconscious, require education, empathy and deep reflection. Yet much like racism is in the white community, colorism among African Americans is a painful and often taboo topic. Addressing and interrupting colorism requires methods of critical exploration on the subject that must be tempered with brave compassion.

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