by Donna K. Bivens
It is important to be aware of
three major things:
1. As people of color are victimized by racism, we internalize it. That is, we
develop ideas, beliefs, actions and behaviors that support or collude with
racism. This internalized racism has its own systemic reality and its own
negative consequences in the lives and communities of people of color. More
than just a consequence of racism, then, internalized racism is a systemic
oppression in reaction to racism that has a life of its own. In other words,
just as there is a system in place that reinforces the power and expands the
privilege of white people, there is a system in place that actively discourages
and undermines the power of people and communities of color and mires us
in our own oppression.
Individuals, institutions and communities of color are often unconsciously and
habitually rewarded for supporting white privilege and power and punished
and excluded when we do not. This system of oppression often coerces us
to let go of or compromise our own better judgment, thus diminishing
everyone as the diversity of human experience and wisdom is excluded.
Equally harmfully, the system can trap people and communities of color in an
oppositional stance that can undermine creativity as situations are seen
through a limited victim/perpetrator lens that cuts us off from the breadth of
2. Because internalized racism is a systemic oppression, it must be distinguished
from human wounds like self-hatred or “low self esteem,” to which all people
are vulnerable. It is important to understand it as systemic because that
makes it clear that it is not a problem simply of individuals. It is structural.
3. Internalized racism negatively impacts people of color intra-culturally and
cross-culturally. Because race is a social and political construct that comes
out of particular histories of domination and exploitation between Peoples,
people of colors’ internalized racism often leads to great conflict among and
between them as other concepts of power — such as ethnicity, culture,
nationality and class — are collapsed in misunderstanding. Especially when race
is confused with nationality and ethnicity,internalized racism often manifests in different cultural and ethnic groups being pitted against each other for the scarce resources that racism leaves for people who do not have white
privilege. This can create a hierarchy based on closeness to the white norm.
At the same time it cripples all of us in our attempt to create a society that
works for all of us.
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