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How mythical is internalized racism?

By: Mary Jane Mphahlele 2014-08-08 14:36

Light Skin Vs Dark Skin the new internalized racism

From the 80’s, in Africa we experienced colonialism by the British and racial segregation .An existence of war between blacks and white people. There were separate everything for black and white people. Whites had control over almost everything, and blacks were the inferior race. After almost two decades from the apartheid era, the black race has taken a U-turn to another level of racism. This time the racism is internalized.

African history has created an intensely rooted hatred and jealousy within the black cultures or indigenous African people. This tension can be measured up against the hate African Americans and Africans around the globe, mostly in Africa have experienced from racism. If there is anything worse than the actual black and white racism is the new emerging internalized racism. It is more damaging than the hatred geared towards Black people than members of other communities could throw at them.  This war is divided from within.  The divide is all based on superficial attributes & rulebooks either stemming from deep jealousy or shame.

We observe this internalized racism form South African Kwaito star singer who is often referred to in the media as the new Michael Jackson. The singer recently bleached her black skin from a darker tone to a very much lighter tone. According to reports on several South African news sites, Mshoza already had a boob and nose job done (plastic surgery), and recently underwent drastic treatment to lighten her skin. South Africa SundaySun newspaper says she started the skin bleaching process earlier this 2012 year with a dermatologist in Sunninghill, Johannesburg.

Anyone can decide to straighten their nose or jaws if they don’t like them. But here we have a different dispute, when one (especially black Africans) decides to bleach their skin to look whiter; we can easily assume that they don’t like their race and not only their skin. This new trend of skin bleaching we ask, could it be rooted in self-hate or improvement or a product of internalized racism?

According to The Psychology of Racism, Robin Nicole Johnson Internalized racism is loosely defined as the internalization by people of racist attitudes towards members of their own ethnic group, including themselves. This can include the belief in ethnic stereotypes relating to their own group. Internalized racism is loosely defined as the internalization by people of racist attitudes towards members of their own ethnic group, including themselves. This can include the belief in ethnic stereotypes relating to their own group. In her study The Psychology of Racism, Robin Nicole Johnson writes that this definition does 'not provide a sense of the complexities or dynamics of racism', and proposes the definition be 'an individual's conscious and unconscious acceptance of a racial hierarchy in which whites are consistently ranked above people of colour.

This definition is notable in that it does not take a 'colour-blind' approach to racism, and articulates an uneven power dynamic between white and non-white (people of colour) people writes that this definition does 'not provide a sense of the complexities or dynamics of racism', and proposes the definition be 'an individual's conscious and unconscious acceptance of a racial hierarchy in which whites are consistently ranked above People of Colour.

When one is a celebrity like Mshoza we accept that if you had the misfortune of not being born European (white) but have a career that relies on your looks then you feel pressured to make changes. Michael Jackson is the poster boy for skin lightening and it continues with famous music artists such as Nicki Minaj, RIhanna, lil Kim, Beyonce, Keri Hilson the list goes on. These are black singers who suddenly become blonde with much lighter skin and reap huge. But with Mshoza is for a different reason, the kwaito singer said in an interview in Drum magazine that she’s tired of being ugly (black).

A bit observation into origins of these stereotypes might give a light into these causes of internalized racism. Looking into the history of black people before democracy, our culture has either been forcefully divided or we’ve been “taught” to be divided.  When slaves were sold to their masters, they were usually divided into 2 main groups:  house slave or field slaves largely depending upon physical strengths & more importantly the complexion of their skin tone.  The darker a slave was, the higher the chances the slave was sent to the fields to spend the remainder of his/her life doing extreme manual labour.  The lighter the slave had higher chances of being sent to the house to do mainly domestic chores.  Depending upon where your skin tone fell would dictate how rough or “less rough” your life was going to be. 

So many black people have been arguing about the segregation amongst themselves that those who are light skin are considered much prettier and more intelligent than those who are in dark in complexion. We see this also from the trending “Doll test” on YouTube. This video was used during the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth Bancroft Clark and his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark designed the test to study the psychological effects of segregation on black children.

In the test, dolls are showed to black children between the ages of three and seven and asked them questions to determine racial perception and preference. Almost all of the children readily identified the race of the dolls. However, when asked which they preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. The Clarks also gave the children outline drawings of a boy and girl and asked them to colour the figures the same colour as themselves. Many of the children with dark complexions coloured the figures with a white or yellow crayon. According to the Library of Congress ,The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred.

These kids associated the dark doll with evil, ugliness and stupidity. We see these ideas today where we have African men preferring light skinned black African women over dark skinned ones. People have taken those stereotypical perceptions and put them onto themselves and others. They still live with those stereotypical perceptions which amount to internalized racism. Dark skin women in this progression are discriminated by their own kind (race).

With the pervasiveness of mass media and its capability to mould all-inclusive people's perceptions of them it may be a very efficient apparatus in implementing internalized oppression. That one does not see himself as demarcated by his actions or his character; but comes to define himself by what perceptions of himself which has been ingrained in him by both media and society. Does not the popular culture sometimes arrange for a limited and sometimes derogatory portrayal of some groups of humans beings? That we are deprived of individuality and are made to believe false truths of ourselves and of the people to which we belong? Is this done with methodical implementation or by accident? Are we individuals or stereotypes?

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