A Second Form of Damage Caused by Racism

Internalized racism occurs when people targeted by racism are, against their will, coerced and pressured to agree with the distortions of racism. Each of us targeted by racism fights, from childhood on, as long and as hard as we dare, to maintain a sense of ourselves as good, smart, strong, important, and powerful. However, in our societies, racist attitudes are so harsh, so pervasive, and so damaging that each of us is forced at times to turn racism in upon ourselves and seemingly agree with some of the conditioning, thereby internalizing the messages of racism. We come to mistreat ourselves and other members of our group in the same ways that we have been mistreated as the targets of racism.

Examples of internalized racism appear everywhere, for example:

• Racism has made us think of ourselves or each other as stupid, lazy, unimportant, or inferior.

• Racism has made us criticize or verbally attack each other, using the racist messages of our societies, or allow others in our group to do so.

• Racism has made us physically attack each other, playing out our rage about racism at one another.

• Racism has made us put our individual well-being last. Racism has made us unable to think about our physical and emotional health, making us vulnerable to heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, ulcers, and more.

• Racism has made us criticize and beat our children in misguided efforts to “discipline” them and keep them from openly displaying pride or pleasure in themselves (attempting to make them less vulnerable to racism, but instead leaving them more beaten down and enraged).

• Racism has made us feel hopeless, despairing, and angry, which can make us vulnerable to the lure of alcohol and other drugs for “relief” from those feelings, even though we know that this does additional harm to ourselves and our families.

• Racism has made our various racial groups fight with each other over what seems like a scarcity of resources; racism has made our youth fight each other in gangs.

• Racism has made some of our group join racist institutions and take part in carrying out their racist policies against our own people.

• Racism has made us feel disconnected from other members of our group, or made us divide or categorize each other by behaviors or lifestyles, believing that some of us are “better” or “more legitimate” than others and that what some others do is “not part of” our cultures.

• Racism has made us place higher value on members of our group who appear more white, and denigrate those who have darker skin, kinkier hair, or other “less white” features. We also do the reverse—we target those with lighter skins as not being “black enough,” not legitimate persons of color.

We are not to blame for any of these attitudes or behaviors, but we can increasingly understand them and take steps to end them and to heal the damage done to us by this form of racism.

Tim Jackins

Last modified: 2015-07-21 18:05:51+00