Internalized Racism Within the Black Community

Image: everydayfeminism.com

When I was younger, I remember feeling so disconnected from my race. Like a piece of driftwood lost in the sea, I didn’t know how to make things better with my family and with those around me. I didn’t understand why I should have to change the type of music I listened to, the way I talked, and the people I chose to hang out with. None of these things seemed to make me any less Black, so why was I constantly being treated as if I was an outsider? I had never felt so isolated before, and the last people I ever expected to feel that way with were my family members. Yet, I didn’t know how to make things better. (I still don’t.)

How does one deal with feeling like a stranger within their own race?

Many scholars will write pages and pages outlining the racism that minority groups go through because of the majority, but rarely any talk about discrimination within one’s own minority group. Why is this? It’s not like it isn’t happening: internalized racism has become a growing problem within every minority group, especially within the Black community. This problem isn’t just going to go away—you can’t have an open sore, pretend like it isn’t there, and expect it to heal. There are so many instances where Black people have felt uncomfortable with their skin color. There should be no reason that any person shouldn’t be able to seek solace with other members of their community, regardless of how dark or light their skin is, the way their hair is worn, or who they choose to date.

Here are a few circumstances in which internalized racism and/or discrimination have been present within the Black community:

  1. Colorism: Ever since slavery, there has been an ongoing battle between women who are light-skinned, and women who are dark-skinned. Back then, if you were Black and had a lighter pigmentation, you were treated better. You were expected to work in the house and were deemed “smarter” or “prettier” than the women who were darker and worked in the sun. Slave owners put light-skinned women on a pedestal, leaving feelings of resentment that followed dark-skinned women for over a hundred years. In 2011, a documentary titled Dark Girls examined the bias within the Black community against women who had darker skin. An African-American male in the film goes on to say that he actually prefers lighter-skinned women to their darker counterparts because they were more attractive. Many Black women have even gone as far as bleaching their skin so that they may be seen as desirable by those within their race. The media has been caught using Photoshop to lighten the skin color of darker girls to make them more appealing to the masses. When Obama was elected president, many sources pointed out that he was light-skinned. This led to a single question: would he have been elected or given the same opportunities if he was darker? Even though it seems as if white privilege can be extended to light-skinned girls, they face prejudices as well. Many are alienated from the Black community and called derogatory names because of their skin color. Colorism affects men, too: many are seen as “soft” and “snooty” because they have lighter skin. Men with darker skin are often seen as more physically attractive in the Black community. I can imagine that they are no strangers to “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice” saying when it comes to their skin color.
  2. Black Men Don’t Date Within Their Race: There is a controversial topic going around that describes Black men only dating white women. Kanye West brings up the topic in his song “Gold Digger” by saying: “...and when you get on he leave your *ss for a white girl.” When discussing this topic, many Black men don’t even really notice that all of their past relationships have only or mostly been with white women. It leads them to question whether or not it’s coincidental or if there’s a subconscious resentment towards women within their race. Rapper Ice-T gave a rather insulting list of reasons on why Black men prefer white women. He says he prefers them because they’re more docile, they can get their hair wet, they cater to their men, etc. “I never consciously set out to date white women. My attraction to them was likely a natural response to my environment,” writer Eric Baker says. “Running around with white girls comes across as rejection of your blackness to the women in your family…” I’m sure there have been many mothers who have questioned their sons, wondering when they were ever going to bring home someone who looked more like them.
  3. Conflict of Interests: Why does liking certain things make any one of us “less Black?” Growing up, I had different interests per se than other Black people around me. I didn’t listen to rap artists such as Biggie Smalls, Tupac, etc. on a daily basis and that made me “less Black.” I couldn’t—and still can’t—dance and that made me “less Black.” I knew how to speak “correctly” and that made me “less Black.” All of these reasons ostracized me from a majority of Black kids at my school, leaving me feeling alienated and lost. Til this day, I still have fellow Black people telling me that I’m “white” because of all the things that I like, and because of those that I’m close with. A majority of those that I surround myself with are PoC, but apparently having a few white friends means betraying my race. I don’t talk the way I talk, listen to what I listen to, and befriend who I’ve befriended to insult my race. I do these things because they make me who I am—they make me happy. Liking certain things does not make you any less than who you are.

We as a community are never going to be able to defeat bigger problems such as police brutality and racism from the majority if we can’t defeat the internal ones. A machine can’t work with only a few functional parts—it takes all of us working together to truly make any change at all. In order for the world to accept us, we have to take the first step by accepting each other. We’re all beautiful the way we are. How long is it going to take before we realize it ourselves?

Article by: Jayana



SOURCES
Baker, Ernest. "The Reality of Dating White Women When You're Black." Gawker. N.p., 03 June 2014. Web. 07 June 2016. <http://gawker.com/the-reality-of-dating-white-women-when-youre-black-1585401039>.
Capretto, Lisa. "Colorism: Light-Skinned African-American Women Explain The Discrimination They Face (VIDEO)." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 07 June 2016. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/13/colorism-discrimination-iyanla-vanzant_n_4588825.html>.
Coward, Mia. "Light Skin, Dark Skin: Colorism in the Black Community." Moyo The. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 June 2016. <http://www.moyoliving.org/topics/5/encounters/38>.
J, Toni. "Ice T Explains Why He Cherishes White Women Over Other Races." IDateDaily. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 June 2016. <http://idatedaily.com/top-fives/ice-t-explains-why-he-cherishes-white-women-over-other-races/>.
Jackson, Kristin C. "5 Truths About Colorism That I've Learned As a Black Woman In NYC." Bustle. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 June 2016. <http://www.bustle.com/articles/37427-5-truths-about-colorism-that-ive-learned-as-a-black-woman-in-nyc>.

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