Internalized racism

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Internalized racism is defined as the internalization by people of racist attitudes towards members of their own ethnic group, including themselves.[1] 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 Color'.[2] This definition is notable in that it does not take a 'colorblind' approach to racism, and articulates an uneven power dynamic between white and non-white people.

Internalized racist attitudes in individuals present barriers towards achievement of racial equality, as somebody with internalized racism may believe that they are inferior to people of other ethnic groups and that equality is therefore not a logical goal; according to Suzanne Lipsky, 'It (internalized racism) has proved to be the fatal stumbling block of every promising and potentially powerful black liberation effort that has failed in the past'.

In an article called Colorism: A Darker Shade of Pale, Taunya Lovell Banks discusses colorism and how it has been internalized by the Black community, leading to a racist hierarchy that privileges lighter skinned black people over darker skinned black people within their own communities.

The 'black is beautiful' cultural movement fights the internalized racism experienced by African Americans specifically with regard to beauty standards.


'Sambo' is an epiphet used by black people towards other black people who are perceived as being overeager to be accepted by white people, demonstrated by apparent internalization of white values. A related concept is the house slave mentality, which is interpreted as internalized racism. Other acts of internalized racism among African-Americans is the common desire to have light-skinned children with "good hair", good hair meaning a child with non-kinky hair, hair usually genetically correlated with non African-Americans.


An empirical example of internalized racism is Kenneth and Mamie Clark's doll experiment, which was done in America at a time when black and white children were segregated. It involved an African-American child being presented with two dolls that were identical apart from skin and hair color, one doll being white with yellow hair and the other being brown with black hair. The child was asked which doll they would prefer to play with and why. All children in the study expressed a clear preference for the white doll.[3]

In 2006 Kiri Davis recreated the experiment with 21 African-American preschool children for her documentary A Girl Like Me. 15 of the children chose white dolls over black dolls, giving similar reasons as the original study subjects that associated white with "pretty" or "good" and black with "ugly" or "bad".[4]

In popular culture[edit]

In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins notes that 'portraying the range of ways that African-American women experience internalized oppression has been a prominent theme in Black women’s writing.' An example of this is Toni Morrison's first novel The Bluest Eye, which features Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who believes she is ugly and wants nothing more than to have the blue eyes associated with the white standard of beauty. Collins adds that her mother Pauline 'typifies the internalization of the mammy image', neglecting her own children and focusing her attention on the white children in her care, and that 'only by accepting this subordinate role to White children could she, as a poor Black woman, see a positive place for herself.'

Chris Rock's 2009 documentary Good Hair is about the history of how African-American women have perceived and styled their hair, and how they collectively spend billions of dollars to have hair that more closely resembles white hair. Rock says that he was inspired to make the film after his 3-year-old daughter asked him 'Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?', 'good hair' meaning straight hair, not tightly curled like the hair type of many people of African descent.

On the Adult Swim show The Boondocks, a character named Uncle Ruckus is another example of an African-American who hates his own culture, and worships the white one.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carlos p. Hipolito-Delgado (2010). "Exploring the Etiology of Ethnic Self-Hatred: Internalized Racism in Chicana/o and Latina/o College Students". Journal of College Student Development. 51 (3): 319–331. doi:10.1353/csd.0.0133. 
  2. ^ Robin Nicole Johnson The Psychology of Racism: How Internalized Racism, Academic Self-concept, and Campus Racial Climate Impact the Academic Experiences and Achievement of African American Undergraduates
  3. ^ "Segregation Ruled Unequal, and Therefore Unconstitutional". 2003-05-28. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  4. ^ "Documentary, studies renew debate about skin color's impact - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette". 2006-12-26. Retrieved 2013-11-19.