Racism is a nuisance, isn’t it? It’s almost as if everywhere we turn, it rears it’s ugly head. When was the last time you went through a week without hearing or seeing or experiencing some negativity because of the racist culture that we live in? You can barely go through a news cycle without hearing about something racist that hurts.
Now, it’s one thing when we see individuals and manifestations of the system working against Black people, and it’s another life-draining experience when you see it coming from Black people too. If you’re not a conscious person, it is very easy to internalize racism when you are in a system where it is prevalent everywhere you look. Here are a few ways Black people internalize racism and how to put an end to it.
1. Making racism about respectability
There is nothing more tired in race rhetoric than thinking that if Black people just wore certain clothes and spoke a certain way, and maybe extended their “hand in love” to White people (side-eye Common) that racism would magically disappear. People will point to how kids these days are raised. They will point to not bending over backwards for authority figures like the police and say people should have done this or not done that. It’s exhausting. Racism is not about what Black people are doing and not doing. When you get tempted to accuse Black people of not being respectable enough, remember examples like MLK Jr. who did all the “right” things and was still assassinated. Remember that Black people can be shot in their homes while sleeping. The systems and structures and power dynamics that favor White people have to change. Point that out.
2. Participating in colorism
Of the many sad consequences of internalized racism, colorism has got to be one of the worst–from the deep psychological trauma faced by people because of what society tells them about the shade of their skin to bleaching products which earn profit off of Black pain. Solving colorism and solving racism will involve much of the same reframing of the culture and the mind of Black people within the culture. But you can start by dealing with the person in the mirror. Do you love the skin you’re in? Do you love the various shades that Black people are blessed to have? Ending your internalized racism in this way is very much about how you view yourself and the people who share different shades of melanin.
3. Choosing silence in order to make other people comfortable while living with your own discomfort
There is a time to be silent and there is a time to speak up. It is not always easy to know when those times are. But I have often realized in my observation of the culture is that Black people often stay silent about racism or about dialogues about racism in order to make White people comfortable. Indeed there are Black people who even will scold other Black people “not to make everything about race.” There is no Black consensus on racism and what is or is not. There are people who deny racism’s effects in modern-day America and we have to be weary of those people. (I am looking at you Charles Barkley.) If another Black person is having a racist or racial experience try to be empathetic even if you don’t see things that way. And when you find yourself being silent in the face of racism, ask yourself why is it that you are willing to make yourself uncomfortable in keeping silent?
4. Trying to make racism about classism
Racism and classism are linked as far as American structures and culture is concerned. But it has also become popular to “not make it about race” because it is “really about class.” The reality, however, is that these systems are linked. The way capitalism has been practiced in America and the West as a whole, is ultimately tied to white supremacy. But let us not kid ourselves into thinking that solving classism will automatically solve racism. Barack Obama’s presidency is proof that even being in the upper echelons of society does not protect you from the deep-seated cultural illness that is racism. Talk about racism and classism together,but do not derail the conversation by claiming that we don’t have a race issue.
5. Buying into stereotypes of all people of color
We often talk about our racism problem in a Black-White binary. There are historical reasons for this, including that anti-Blackness persists not only among White people, but it was transferred to the minds of all people of color, including Black people. But one thing that is true, is that all people of color can be racist towards each other. And oftentimes end up being both victims and participants in perpetuating racism. Ending racism is a lifetime’s work for everyone. But we need to make sure we are also doing our own evaluation of the stereotypes we have set for all others, and particularly people of color who also face racism, but in different ways than the Black-White binary. In the end, ending racism ought to be everyone’s job. Or as Chimamanda Adichie puts it in Americanah, “Racism should never have happened so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”