“Because race is a social and political construct grounded in a history/experience of oppressor-oppressed relationships based on physical characteristics, by definition it offers people of color a very limited sense of self.”
In this series intro piece, “Dismantling Internalized Racism Part I: Recognizing The Problem,” I briefly examined Donna’s complex idea of what Internalized Racism is, and how it manifests itself in our everyday lives.
First, let’s rewind the track and do a quick recap of what we learned so far…
Shit You’re Hip To Now
Internalized Racism | Just as racism results in the system of structural advantage called white privilege for white people and their communities, Internalized Racism results in a system of structural disadvantages for black people and communities of color on inter- and intra-group levels.
In basic terms, Internalized Racism occurs when a racial group oppressed by racism (minorities in America) supports the supremacy and dominance of the oppressed racial group.
This is accomplished by maintaining or participating in the set of attitudes, behaviors, social structures and ideologies that not only support the dominating group’s power and privilege but also limits the oppressed group’s own advantages.
If you haven’t read the intro to this series, I’d highly recommend you do so now. Especially since we’ll be building on a lot of the ideas and methodologies that were discussed in the intro piece, and will only be discussed in the intro piece.
Dismantling Internalized Racism Part I: Recognizing The Problem
The Inner Dimension
As human beings, I believe we all have a responsibility to discover our talents, then use those talents to create a better world.
All of us are unique and through that uniqueness, we each bring something different to the table of humanity. The tricky thing about life is that getting to truly know yourself isn’t as easy work.
For me, I didn’t begin to figure out who I truly was until I entered my mid 20’s.
I mean, I knew what my friends thought about me. After all, I grew up in a society where your reputation could cost you your life. So honestly speaking, being a product of my environment, I was hypersensitive to what other people thought about me and what the word on the street was.
It took me some time to realize who I was as a unique individual, and it took even longer for me to accept who I was as a unique individual. Achievements I would’ve never been able to reach without the people I currently have in my life and the mental maturity that only comes with time and research that comes from a sense of empathy.
I only mentioned my personal experience to shine a small light on how much work it takes in the inner dimension (within one’s own self) for one to truly understand and accept who they are as a unique individual in today’s society.
In Donna’s piece, “What Is Internalized Racism” she explains that “because race is a social and political construct grounded in a history/experience of the oppressor-oppressed relationships based on physical characteristics, by definition it offers people of color a very limited sense of self.”
Donna goes on to say that, “with internalized racism, this limited sense of self can undermine people of color’s belief in our full humanity and disrupt our understanding of our inner life.”
She goes on to list the ways in which Internalized Racism manifests in the inner dimensions of black life, and for the most part, a lot of this was new information for me. Information that I largely agree with, but struggle to correct in my own life even today.
Ways Internalized Racism manifests in the inner dimensions of black life according to Donna K. Bivens
- Having a sense of inferiority to other human beings;
There have been countless studies done that actually prove this occurs early in black children’s lives here in America. Growing up in a racialistic society where people who look like you are oftentimes portrayed in a negative image gets internalized at a very early age and takes years of work in the inner dimension to undo.
“In the case of an American Negro, born in that glittering republic, and the moment you are born, since you don’t know any better, every stick and stone and every face is white. And since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose that you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, or 6, or 7, to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you.”
James Baldwin | 1965 debate speech at Cambridge University’s Union Hall
Related source: Study: White and black children biased toward lighter skin
- Being grounded in victimhood—that is, always seeing oneself as a victim and denying one’s own power to transform a situation or failing to take responsibility for one’s own roles as victimizer or colluder with oppression;
So this gave me mix feelings. On one hand, I understand Donna’s point, if that point means because of internalized racism black people are conditioned to support/believe in anti-blackness.
The reason why I have mixed feelings about this point has everything to do with Donna’s choice of words. The idea of black people having a sense of, “victimhood,” turns me all the way off because it implies this sense of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”
With the idea of “victimhood,” comes this sense of responsibility. As if the ones being oppressed by this system are somehow responsible for their own suffering or for allowing the suffering to happen in the first place.
Donna actually alludes to this when she says, “failing to take responsibility for one’s own roles as victimizer or colluder with oppression.” It almost reminds me of when Kanye said, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years… For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally in prison.”
Just so it’s clear, slavery was the economic foundation of this so-called great country we now know and love called America.
The idea that slaves were in any way complacent in their suffering under the brutal system of slavery is wildly ignorant and highly offensive, and to suggest that simply freeing one’s mind would’ve dismantled the economic foundation of this country is even more repulsive and just as ignorant.
However, since we do live in a realistic society that’s centered around the ideology of White Supremacy I wouldn’t be surprised if someone agreed with Kanye and much more so agree with Donna’s use of the word “victimhood.”
To help illustrate exactly what I mean and how our society views “victimhood,” we’ll use rape as an example.
*As a man I must acknowledge that I can only speak from a man’s perspective*
*I’m only using rape and gender as an example because Patriarchy and White Supremacy are both powerful social and political constructs here in America. Yet, it’s easier for us to understand things through the lens of gender and sexism as opposed to race and racism*
There are politicians in this country, who truly believe women who are victims of rape are in some way responsible for what happened to them. “Maybe she should’ve worn something different,” or “she shouldn’t have been so drunk.”
This belief of victimhood is then echoed on rightwing blogs and conservative media outlets all across American.
- The Brett Kavanaugh case shows we still blame women for the sins of men
- Trump Nominee Neomi Rao Wrote Articles Blaming Women For Sexual Assault
- Judge Rips ‘Aggressor’ Girl Victims, Goes Easy On Sex Offender
- Tucker Carlson Criticizes Rape Victims Who Don’t Report: ‘You’re Part Of The Problem’
Shit like this circulating in the media is one thing, but politicians in Congress having these sexists beliefs is a completely different beast.
We must remember that these are the same politicians who we entrust to craft and pass legislation that helps and protects ALL Americans regardless of their sex, race, etc.
Now thanks to the #MeToo movement, a lot of men are beginning to realize the importance of listening to women’s stories who are victims of rape. Thanks to the #MeToo movement and others like it, women are beginning to feel empowered by telling their truths and sharing their stories of trials and tribulations.
All of this is great and positive signs for the future, but the #MeToo movement will, unfortunately, be seen as having little significance if it doesn’t lead to legislation that supports these marginalized communities.
I know that sounds harsh but it’s the sad reality. The civil rights protest of the ’50s and ’60s would mean nothing if it didn’t amount to the Civil Rights Act. The Black Lives Matter movement was and still is a powerful movement but since it hasn’t lead to any type of federal legislation, black lives are still being unjustly taken by police brutality…
- Unarmed Black Woman Yells ‘I’m Pregnant!’ Before Being Shot, Killed by Police
- There are huge racial disparities in how US police use force
We had the Women’s March in 2017, and the #MeToo movement picked up huge support from Americans all across this country from 2016 all the way up til now. All of these acts were expressions of women pride and unapologetic feminism, yet here we are in 2019 and it’s a full-on assault on women’s rights…
- Only 33 House Republicans Support the Violence Against Women Act
- Missouri Governor Signs Ban On Abortion After 8 Weeks Of Pregnancy
- The reality for women seeking abortions in Alabama and Georgia
The reason why I’m bringing all this up is to help show that just because more women are freeing their minds and beginning to have a strong sense of self and self-worth isn’t going to magically dismantle the political and social structures of patriarchy.
Dismantling Patriarchy requires a complete political and social revolution in this country, and in my opinion, the same thing applies to racism.
Having a strong sense of self doesn’t destroy the racial caste system of America, and it most definitely doesn’t dismantle the structure of white supremacy.
The main point for us black folks here is understanding that our lives have worth, regardless of what society tries to tell us. More importantly, we must understand that we are not the ones responsible for creating the racial construct that oppresses us still till this day, and dismantling that system will take work that’s completely out of our hands.
- Being overwhelmed and drained by the emotions we must navigate as a result of having this limited identity thrust upon us;
Thoughts… Well kind of…
I’m actually working on a piece titled, “Black Trauma,” that speaks to the trauma and stress black people endure living in a racialistic society like American. I’ll save a lot of that my thoughts for that piece but the main thing to understand here is that all of these pressures create a unique type of stress that’s only experienced in black life here in America.
- Focusing on “reading” and trying to change white people, thus leaving less time, energy and resources for self-development;
This is something I struggled with the hardest. I actually just bought a book called, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism,” because I honestly believed part of my mission was to educate those who (knowingly or unknowingly) benefit from my oppression. However, once I truly comforted the racism I internalized within myself I realized I was wasting all my energy fighting a fight that wasn’t mine to fight.
“Know yourself and you will win all battles”
Sun Tzu | The Art of War
I realized that the war against Racism involves many battles…
Yup, here I go with another example.
Since everyone is still in Game of Thrones mode lets think of the war against Racism as us planning our war to control the 7 kingdoms. Our chance to “break the wheel,” if you must.
In the war against Racism (the war to sit on the iron throne), there are two major battles. One battle can be largely defined as dismantling Internalized Racism (battle of Winterfell). While the other battle can be largely defined as dismantling White Supremacy (the battle for Kingslanding).
The Battle of White Supremacy + The Battle of Internalized Racism = The War against Racism
Just like any other war, winning one battle doesn’t decide who wins the war… What determines victory in wars is strategic domination.
So when we look at the war against Racism strategically, we’ll realize that each battle has its own champion fighter, and it’s up to us (those who are fighting the good fight against racism) to deploy our champions strategically in each battle we face in the war against Racism.
If Arya Stark would’ve skipped the battle of Winterfell to go kill Cersei Lannister, I have no doubts she would’ve accomplished that goal. However, who would’ve killed the Night King? Winning one battle doesn’t win the war…
Donna said something that really stood out to me…
She said, “practically speaking, people of color cannot force white people to notice, acknowledge or dismantle racism and the white privilege that results from it. Nor can we continually monitor and check up on their progress. For one thing, a great deal of what happens to hold racism and white privilege in place goes on out of the purview of peoples of color. Ultimately, white people must come to their own understanding of why it is in their interests to dismantle a system that does not work for all humanity and commit to creating something better. The biggest contribution people of color can make to the dismantling of racism and the white privilege it results in is to notice, acknowledge and dismantle internalized racism—that is, to claim and bring forth our full humanity, power, and wisdom as co-creators of an anti-racist society and culture.“
I agree with Donna wholeheartedly.
My main goal as a black freedom fighter against racism is to free my fellow brother and sister minds from the shackles of racism they’ve internalized from living and surviving in brutal racialistic society. This is something that I, and any brother like myself, must do in this fight against a system that thrives on our castration.
If I focus my energy on any other battle that doesn’t involve this main goal then I am wasting my talents. Just like Arya would’ve done if she would’ve said fuck the Night King, and went to kill Cersei instead.
By that same token, I shouldn’t expect my white allies in this good fight against Racism to waste their talents on anything that doesn’t involve dismantling the idea of Whiteness and White Supremacy.
Related Piece: “White Saviors: Fantasy Vs. Reality”
Where We Go From Here
“If black people knew their glorious past then they would be MORE inclined to respect themselves.”
Marcus Garvey| Harlem, New York, 1924
Donna notes that the inner dimension of internalized racism can be investigated and addressed through methodologies that strengthen a sense of personal power and individual responsibility.
One of the best ways of doing this can be done by developing a clear sense of one’s racial identity and learning to value one’s ancestry (not just our 400 years of history of oppression that’s feed to us, but one’s REAL ancestral history that dates back thousands of years and drawing on the strengths of one’s original culture) support growth in this dimension.
I started this section with a quote from Marcus Garvey, because personally speaking, researching the history of Africa was totally liberating for me. I’ll link to a few of my pieces I wrote about our history that’s never shared here in the western world. I’ll also drop a video to an amazing documentary I saw about ancient Kemet (Africa) that I think you’ll find eye-opening.
Because of its systemic nature, internalized racism cannot be addressed merely at the inner dimension. Now that we have an understanding of what Internalized Racism is and how it works on the inner dimension we can begin addressing internalized racism on the other three dimensions; Interpersonal, Institutional, and Cultural.
I love this piece and you did a great job breaking down racism! One quote stood out to me most:
Being grounded in victimhood—that is, always seeing oneself as a victim and denying one’s own power to transform a situation or failing to take responsibility for one’s own roles as victimizer or colluder with oppression
This hit home because I truly believe the reason why we lack respect for our own culture plays a big roll in why we are the bottom of the barrel to other races and white cops treat us as they do. I think blacks are mentally slaved within their own race. We have a lot of work to do and your post really allows a good picture of some of the challenges we face. Good job!
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Thank you for reading! This is from an ongoing series I’ve been working on and each piece makes me comfort some of the racsim I’ve internalized over the years.
Thanks for reading, and I hope this series helps you as much as its helping myself!
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