Two girls were just standing around on upper 14th Street talking softly the other day when suddenly they began shouting and then punching each other. More troubling than the fight were the names they were calling each other, mostly all of them biting racial slurs.

Bystanders -- some of whom had been cheering them on -- said the fight was over a Metro Farecard, which both girls claimed they had found on the sidewalk.

As one girl began explaining her side of the story, she refered to the other girl as a "nigger." The other girl shot back: "The black bitch is lying."

Before I knew it, they were pulling at each other's hair and trying to yank out each other's earrings.

Now there is no Farecard worth all of that, and I got the impression the intensity of the fight was being fueled by something much deeper than a piece of paper with 20 cents' worth of Metro ride left on it.

These girls hated each other, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that they were black.

There is a troubling resurgence of self-hatred among young people of all races these days. But what black people are doing to themselves is particularly destructive.

At its extreme, a situation emerges such as in Detroit, where black boys and young black men are killing each other at a rate of one a week, and wounding each other with gunfire at a rate of one a day.

This is the kind of self-destructive behavior that might have been expected in the 1940s, when psychologist Kenneth Clark conducted his famous studies on racial identification and racial preferences in black children.

At that time, according to Clark, the majority of black children in America believed their race was a mark of inferior status.

Most of them preferred white dolls and rejected brown dolls. They ascribed positive characteristics to whites and negative characteristics to themselves.

"It was clear," Clark said, "that American racism imposed a tremendous burden of deep feelings of inferiority in the early stages of personality development in black children."

The United States Supreme Court referred to these findings when it ruled in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision that racial segregation in public education violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Today, schools across the country are rapidly being resegregated, but without those strengths that predominantly black schools once had.

This caused Clark to conclude in a 1980 update of the self-image study that the gains obtained by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had not yet resulted in a consistently positive self-image for the majority of blacks.

"In spite of the removal of the more flagrant signs of racial rejection, the rise of the Black Power movement and the demands for racial pride of the 1970s, the majority of blacks still appear to be burdened with racial self-doubt," Clark said.

"The overall question 'What do blacks now think of themselves?' can be answered by the evidence that, at best, blacks in general are still ambivalent in evaluating themselves and other blacks. The majority of blacks want to be proud of themselves as blacks but many of them still tend to reject their physical characteristics."

It doesn't take witnessing a fistfight between two black girls to know that there is truth to what Clark is saying.

Go to a beauty shop and watch what people subject themselves to in order to play down their black features. Go to a black-run fast-food restaurant located in a black neigborhood; put those same employes in a white neighborhood, and their whole attitude changes for the better.

This is a terribly sad situation. Most troubling of all is that the longer the development of a child's self-esteem is neglected, the harder it will be for the child to see straight.

In the end, this mistaken belief that fighting other blacks elevates one's self-esteem will only wreak more havoc on an ambivalent black community.