Dismantling Internalized Racism Part III: The Interpersonal Dimension

“Internalized racism on this level is like being in a relationship with someone who cannot see, but internalizing that you and those like you are invisible.”

Donna K. Bivens

Welcome to the 3rd installment of the Dismantling Internalized Racism series. Before we jump into things I’d like to remind you all what I hope to accomplish with this series.

This series is one of the many tools I’m using in the fight against racism here in America.

In reviewing Donna’s work “What Is Internalized Racism,” I’ve tried my best to be as open and honest as I possibly can, not only with you all but with myself as well. And through that honesty, I’ve begun to identify all the ways in which I’ve personally internalized racism, and moreover, how it has shaped who I am today.

One of my main objectives in this fight against racism is to free the minds of my fellow brothers and sisters by destroying the shackles of racism they’ve internalized while living and surviving in this brutal racialistic society.

Shackles I’m still shaking off myself…

Since this is the 3rd installment of this series I highly suggest reading the 1st & 2nd installments (listed below) before jumping into this one. Especially since I’ll be building on a lot of the ideas and methodologies that were discussed in the first two installments.

The Interpersonal Dimension

As we continue to breakdown Donna’s work on Internalized Racism we must shift our focus from the inner dimension to the interpersonal dimension.

When internalized racism manifests itself in the interpersonal dimension of our lives it affects our relationships with others in multiple ways. Donna examines these ways by breaking them down into two separate categories; relationships with those with white privilege, and relationships we have with our own black brothers and sisters.

Dealing With White Privilege

Before we hop into this section I have to confess something… In my journey to dismantle the racism I’ve internalized throughout my life, this dimension is by far the toughest dimension I have to deal with.

One of the most common ways internalized racism can manifest itself when trying to confront white people for their unwillingness and/or inability to be aware of and take responsibility for their privilege is rage.

Sometimes it could be uncontrolled and inappropriately expressed rage other times it could be the rage of complete silence and isolation.

I’ll give you a real-life example…

A few months ago I had an encounter with a young white man that ended rather sour. It all started when we were chilling on a dock at the Lake of the Ozarks.

It happened to be close to my girlfriend’s birthday week, so a friend of ours invited her to a friend of the families lake house at the Lake of the Ozarks. It was myself, my lovely girlfriend, two other friends, and the young man I had my situation with.

Iight, so boom, we were all chilling listening to music when an old Eazy E song came on that some DJ had flipped into a heavy bass edit.


Now, I didn’t know the song, but this young white man did. And when I say know the song, this MF knew the song. Like, bruh if I didn’t know any better I would’ve thought he wrote the shit.


The whole time the song was playing I remember thinking to myself, please, please, please for the love of my ancestors, don’t let this mf say nigga.

About halfway through the song, Eazy E says, “nigga.” Of course, this young clown had no shame in his game.

Instead of dragging his ass by his dirty hair, I decided to take the diplomatic approach and calmly say, “bruh please don’t say the N-word.”

You’d think that in 2019 it would be almost common sense for wypipo to understand how offensive the N-word is to certain black people, especially when it comes from anyone outside of the black community.

But then again, common sense isn’t so common.

So instead of just apologizing, and committing himself not to say nigga again, at least not around me, this mf said what many wypipo say in this situation when their fragility kicks in…

“But I was just rapping the lyrics…”

“You know I’m not racist, I was just repeating what was said in the song.”

Since I didn’t feel like giving this MF the much-needed history lesson of white people’s creation and use of the word “nigga” much less the pseudoscientific creation of the so-called Negroid race, I decided to simply repeat myself by saying, “IDC about any of that, just don’t say it bruh.”

You’d think that after a second warning everything would’ve been done and put to rest right? Well not with this one… After I gave him the second warning to not say nigga, at least not around me, I noticed his fragility shift from the I’m not racist defensive mode into a more passive-aggressive IDGAF defensive mode.

No cap, this is what this MF said to me.

“Can you tell me why it’s so offensive to you?”

Again, fighting off the spirit of my ancestors begging me to knock some sense into this mf, I decided to make an attempt to educated this MF as to why him saying the N-word was offensive…

Yes, you read that correctly…

Next thing I know, 30 minutes had passed by and no progress had been made. And when I say no progress I mean NO progress.

I tried to explain the deep history of violence tied to that word and how we’re still dealing with the legacy of that violence today, but according to him, “technology has erased most of the racism in today’s society,” and that “maybe all of this oppression stuff is just in my head.” That I should stop, “playing the victim card.

Luckily my lovely girlfriend happened to walk by in the heat of the discussion to save me.

If anyone knows me, it’s her.

Knowing I was seconds away from letting my ancestors guide my fist through this young man’s facial structure, she jumped into the convo and said, “damn y’all still talking about this?!

Which at that point it finally hit me that I was wasting my time.

That this wasn’t my main focus in the fight against racism. That this fight is a fight I have to trust my allies to handle, and not waste my time articulating decades of history to a MF that’s too triggered to even comprehend the basics of how racism works in today’s society.

The convo ended with us being exactly where we started.

Him, basking in complete ignorance and me frustrated and somewhat sad.

He ended up going back down to the dock, and I decided to spend a few minutes in the bathroom collecting myself. After all, I was just seconds away from unleashing the rage I had built up inside on that young man’s face, so I thought some cool water and quick second to myself would do everyone some good.

As I looked myself in the eyes through the bathroom mirror, I begin to feel a whirlwind of emotions slowly consume me.

I remember asking myself, why can’t he feel my pain?

Then an unbelievable wave of sadness hit me when I realized that this ignorant MF was just one of many. That there is a sea of MF who share his same exact thoughts.

My girlfriend (being the only other black person there) found me shortly after I left the bathroom. When I looked into her eyes I noticed she was feeling the same pain I was feeling.

The pain of feeling unheard.

I think Donna said it best when she said it’s almost like being in relationship with someone who cannot see, but personally believes that you and those like you are invisible, rather than face the reality of their blindness (I added that last part).

We ended up separating ourselves from the group for the rest of that night and spent the little remaining time we had left on our vacay in each other’s arms watching TV.

Dealing With Other Black People and POC

Internalized racism can manifest in a variety of ways when dealing with relationships with other black people or POC, but the most common way it presents itself is through what I’d call inferiority projection.

Wtf is that you ask?

It’s when a black person or any POC begins projecting one’s own sense of inferiority and inadequacy onto those of the same race. This, in turn, results in distrust and a lack of confidence in our shared abilities or acceptance and support of each other’s leadership.

Growing up I’d often hear black people say shit like, black people can’t do shit right. Or if something was wrong I’d hear other black people say shit like, a black person must’ve made this ghetto shit.

All of these are examples of how internalized racism affects us on the interpersonal dimension. One could easily compare it to the carbs in a barrel saying. However, I’m not a huge fan of that saying because it overlooks the main problem. Yes, black people are prone to pull each other down, just like crabs in a barrel, but we must ask ourselves, who put the crabs in a barrel in the first place? Whereas in our case, who placed the inferiority complex in our consciousness in the first place?

How We Can Move Forward

I know what you’re thinking, How do we get past this shit? Donna says it’s imperative that people of color practice caregiving with white people—and even other people of color—rather than caretaking.

Healing professions make a distinction between the two by pointing out that with caretaking one takes over the care of a person who cannot or will not care for him or herself. However, with caregiving, the receiver of care remains fully responsible for his/her own process.

Through honoring this distinction people of color, among ourselves and in relationships with white people, develop and maintain authentic alliances and equal relationships in our anti-racism work.

As for our relationships with other black people and POC, I highly recommend building ones own racial esteem.

What’s racial esteem? Racial esteem simply put is how one sees their own race. Check out this quick clip from Robin Walker for a more detailed explanation.

A great way black people can boost their racial esteem is by learning their true history. As African American’s we suffer from the legacy of slavery in many ways. One of those ways is the fact that we had our true history stolen from us, and it’s up to us to rediscover that history and claim it as our own.

I recently published a few pieces that shine a light on this history for these very reasons. I can personally say after learning what I call true black history I have a newfound respect for not just myself and other black people, but for Africa as a whole.

Related Pieces;

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re looking forward to our next installation in this miniseries 🙂


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