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How Internalized Racism Harms People of Color

Around the age of six, I started to notice that certain people around me looked different than I did. During this time, my family had decided to move out of a townhome located in the loud urban metropolis of Minneapolis, to this small, quaint neighborhood in a suburb 30 minutes away. In Minneapolis, I had plenty of friends that looked like me; same hair, similar culture and they had the same brown skin and brown eyes that I had.

When I moved to the suburbs, however, that’s when I realized that things started to look different. I saw more blue eyes than brown, more straight blonde hair than brown and curly and more pale skin than dark. Due to feeling outcasted, I started to feel a sort of self-hatred. The brown skin I once loved I now wanted to scrub off, the tight coils that grew from my head I now wanted to be straight. I now know what I was experiencing was internalized racism.

Donna Bivens of the Women’s Theological Center defines internalized racism as, “when a racial group oppressed by racism supports the supremacy and dominance of the dominating group by maintaining or participating in the set of attitudes, behaviors, social structures and ideologies that undergird the dominating group’s power”. This is one of the many subsections of racism that affect communities of color. We can see this through the industry of skin bleaching and through social experiments.

The skin bleaching industry is expected to be worth $23 billion by the end of the decade. It is popular in Asian countries, such as India and China, as well as all throughout Africa. Specifically, in India, they have celebrity endorsements for these products in order to make people believe that since their favorite celebrity is using it, then they should use it too. There are many problems with these products, one of them being that it makes people believe in order to beautiful, you need to be lighter-skinned. This thought process also feeds into the universal belief that Eurocentric features are the standard of beauty.

Internalized racism is even found in young children. In an experiment called ‘the doll test’, young children of color are shown two dolls, a black and a white one. They are then asked a series of questions, the first two asking them to distinguish which doll is white and which doll is black. After, they were asked to differentiate the ‘bad’ doll from the ‘nice’ doll. The children often preferred the white doll over the black one, even those who were black themselves. Their reason being was because the white doll had blue eyes and looked prettier than the other. They saw the black doll as ugly for only one reason: because it was black. This shows that children, specifically children of color, are taught that their race is something that they should see negatively instead of something they should celebrate.

The doll experiment as well as the skin bleaching industry is something that affects people of color’s wellbeing and doesn’t benefit anyone except for those in power. Being taught that you are lesser-than from a young age affects people as they grow and become adults, hindering their mindset and view of themselves.

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