Thoughtsnack: About Racism
by: Burnett Kwadwo Gallman
Racism is a word that is often used but less often understood. Hence, this is a very brief attempt to offer an expanded view for those who may have not fully thought about it.
First, the distinction between racism and prejudice should be considered. Prejudice is opinion while racism always has a power component, even if not always obvious. This power may be as small as making one feel badly about themselves and have “hurt feelings” or as large as life or death.
Secondly, the systems of racism as they apply to people of Afrikan origin will be specifically discussed. It is recognized, however, that racism can and does adversely affect other races.
There are many types, classifications and categories of racism. Most people think of overt, individual, in-your-face prejudice when they hear the word. Even though that type of racism is still common, it is important to understand the other, more insidiously subtle and potentially more destructive types of racism.
Institutional racism is a little understood but highly destructive form of racism that is rarely recognized by its victims. It involves rules, customs, rights and even laws that give a disadvantage to Afrikan people by definition.
Scientific racism is false science that tries to present racist ideology as scientific fact. It is always distorted and false. An example is using IQ tests to say that Afrikan people are not as intelligent as other races even though IQ tests are not just culturally biased but basically invalid.
Unconscious racism is frequently well-meaning and ignores the distinctive history and experiences of Afrikan people. Saying things like, “I don’t see color” when even color-blind people see some colors.
The type of racism that I feel is most damaging is Internalized racism. This is the (frequently unconscious) acceptance of one’s own group’s inferiority. Afrikan people affected by internalized racism are ashamed of their race and hate the things that make them Afrikan. They try to compensate in many ways. They may even become physically ill. Experimental Psychologist Dr. Na’im Akbar has described several mental disorders related to internalized racism:
The Alien Self Disorder involves Afrikan people who reject their Afrikanity and blackness. These are the people who see their tightly curled hair as “kinky” and bad”. They see their lips and noses as objects of ridicule and their dark skin as a badge of shame. Depending on their financial status, they may get plastic surgery to sharpen their features so that they appear more “white”. They may bleach their skin. They may get light colored contact lenses just to lighten their eyes. Some may even get tattoos of symbols honoring other cultures rather than investing time and effort in exploring their own cultural symbols.
The Anti-Self Disorder includes hostility towards anyone of Afrikan origin and frequently even themselves. This has been mentioned as a possible cause of the increased incidence of suicides among young people of Afrikan origin. People afflicted with this disorder identify with other races and cultures (whites, Asians, Arabs, etc). Good examples are found among some people who describe themselves as “black conservatives” and berate and belittle black people whenever they can. Another example is the Uncle Ruckus character from the cartoon Boondocks.
It is imperative that Afrikan people be aware of these problems so that solutions can be found. We must be aware that there are occasionally uncomfortable explanations for what we do. Racism is prevalent in America and we should understand it.