Healing Internalized Racism

Healing Internalized Racism

As people of color are targeted, discriminated against, oppressed, or victimized by racism over a period of time, we sometimes internalize it. We develop beliefs, actions, and behaviors that support or collude with racism. 

Internalized racism is when members of oppressed or marginalized groups hold an oppressive view toward their own group, or they start to affirm negative stereotypes of themselves. The person may feel a sense of inferiority and turn the experience of oppression inward. It is both a conscious and unconscious acceptance of the racial hierarchy that states whites are superior to people of color. 

Internalized racism has its own reality and consequences in communities of color. There is a system that expands the power of white people and at the same time undermines the power of people of color. 

I grew up internalizing messages that said I shouldn’t accept my natural hair, skin tone, or my natural features. I used to chemically straighten my hair because I wasn’t comfortable with my natural hair. I thought it was too curly, too kinky, too nappy, too ugly. I had big beautiful curly hair long before the “big hair, don’t care” naturally curly movement.

When I was about 26 years old, I did my first “big chop,” cut off all my hair and started wearing my hair natural, I felt free. I felt myself letting go of negative thoughts about my hair, my culture and about myself. I was letting go of all of the parts of me that were rejecting my true, pure self. It takes time to reject the lies that have been fed to you. This is not the same experience for all black women. Many straighten their hair and it doesn’t mean that they are less accepting of their true self. For me, self-acceptance, self-love and undoing internalized racism was a process of accepting my naturally curly, kinky hair, and recognizing the beauty and uniqueness of it. 

Internalized Racism is not the same as self-hatred and low self-esteem because it is structural. Even people of color with high self-esteem will have to untangle the internalized racism that infects our black and brown lives and communities.

5 Manifestations of Internalized Racism

1. Feeling that you are in some way inherently not as worthy, capable, intelligent, beautiful, or good as white people.

2. Colorism within racial groups. Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with dark skin tone, among people of the same racial group.

3. Restriction of speech or mannerisms to avoid being labeled “too black” or “ghetto.”

4. Strict commitment to painful and costly hair-care regimen.

5. Feelings of not being “black enough.”

Healing is about undoing, unlearning and untangling the impact of racism. Become aware of possibly distorting yourself due to negative stereotypes and the impact of internalizing racism. Focus on stepping into your truth, your power and illuminating the parts of yourself that are unseen. 

5 Steps To Healing Internalized Racism

1. Awareness. We must name it! Internalized racism makes its biggest impact on children. It’s important for children of color to understand how oppression works and that any mistreatment they experience is not their fault. Teach young people to be proud of who they are and their culture. Children become adults and without the knowledge and understanding of injustices, it is easy to personalize negative messages. We have to continually be aware of how internalized racism shows up and impacts each of us individually.

2. Acknowledge when traumatic thoughts or internalized negative messages arise. Breathe into them, avoid ignoring these thoughts and feelings. We can’t dismantle them without acknowledging them.

3. Do not isolate. Due to feelings of shame or guilt, your initial instincts may be to remain silent about it. However, as you become more mindful of these moments of pain, you can learn to use the pain to connect to others and avoid isolating and silencing yourself. 

4. Self-Reflect. The more you become still, listen, reflect, the deeper you will travel inward to discover and understand yourself and others. Yoga, writing, mindfulness, meditation, and breathing techniques are great tools for healing trauma.

5. Share your process with others. Invite like-minded individuals into your process. Friends, family, and community can help us to recognize it and dismantle it in our lives. 

Reflection Questions:

What will it take for you to love yourself fiercely just as you are? Is there anything about yourself that you have difficulty loving fiercely? If so, what steps can you take towards loving that part of yourself? 

If you are a person of color, can you identify how you may have internalized racism? If so, what steps can you take to actualizing your full humanity, power and wisdom?

1 comment

  • Great and helpful info about internalized racism! Thank you!

    Tina Strawn

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