By Dr Milton Brown
Internalised Racism is the silent killer of people of African descent (PAD). Communities throughout the African diaspora carry unparalleled levels of internalised racism and trauma, individually and collectively, which prevents group unity and leads to a lack of culturally conscious contact with self and others within their communities.
The enslavement of people of African descent (PAD) and the struggle for social and economic freedom have continued for over 500 years, leaving PAD individuals and their communities unconsciously fearful of each other and unable to support and follow their leaders.
Thandiwe Dee-Watts Jones (2000) described three different levels of racism: personally mediated (e.g. racial discrimination, institutionalised inequitable access to products, services, and opportunities based on race); and internalised (e.g. acceptance of negative stereotypes or beliefs by the stigmatised group about their ethnic group).
Unity is strength, unless PAD individuals and the communities they represent work together to address internalised racism, the struggle for unity will continually evade us.
Political activist, social critic and psychologist Professor Na’im Akbar suggests: “To fully grasp the magnitude of our current problems, we must reopen the books on the events of slavery.
“Our objective should not be to cry stale tears for the past or rekindle old hatred for past injustices.
“Instead, we should seek to enlighten our path of today by better understanding where and how the lights were turned out yesterday.
“We should also understand that slavery should be viewed as a starting point for understanding the PAD psyche and not as an endpoint.
“Therefore, the PAD psyche should include psychohistory, but it should not be exclusively concerned with events in the past.”
Akbar shows us a way forward, but to do so takes personal and emotional courage.
To put our front foot forward and say: “No more, I will deal with racism once and for all.”
For many of us, it will take group unity and support from all areas of PAD communities and across the African diaspora.
What stops us from trusting each other or celebrating others’ success across the diverse cultures within PAD communities and the diaspora?
During the past 35 years, I have travelled the length and breadth of England, working with PAD individuals and communities.
I spent three weeks at the United Nations in Geneva on a Fellowship program with African descendants’ community activists across the African diaspora, learning and understanding how to utilise human, cultural and minority rights effectively for people of African descent.
I have worked in the Caribbean, Africa and the USA, researched PAD business and interviewed over 1,000 people seeking answers to why PAD communities don’t support or work with each other enough to sustain cultural, social and economic change.
These include pastors, community activists, musicians, artists, sports personalities, police officers, politicians, bankers, lawyers, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and community leaders.
I have sat in many African-Caribbean restaurants, cafés and grocery stores, listening to the elders and young people talk about the lack of group unity.
The central concern of many African descendants I interviewed and listened to is that PAD communities do not work together, citing intergenerational and intercultural challenges, institutional and structural discrimination, jealousy, and envy.
Moreover, here in England, school exclusions, high unemployment, police discrimination, historically negative media representation and a perennial struggle to fight prejudice and stereotyping from non-Black people all add to the debilitating cocktail of racism, bigotry, structural discrimination and trauma.
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Historically and presently, compelling evidence supports the feelings that PAD individuals and communities face overwhelming odds due to the colour of their skin and race.
The critical question is when you have absorbed years of marginalisation, alienation, and social and economic oppression, where does all the frustration of intergenerational discrimination and trauma go?
When you have contained prejudice and navigated the continuous bombardment of negative media projections and representation from generation to generation, where do we store it or understand how to start a process of internally eradicating the continuous and contagious projection of discrimination and microaggression?
The truth is that most of us hold it in our psyche. We internalise the discrimination and park it somewhere where we can digest it slowly and comfortably without feeling ashamed that we haven’t challenged discrimination in the way we could or should.
When we store and digest racism, slowly and over time internalised racism becomes a manifestation of unconscious trauma. Eventually, the unconscious trauma becomes very conscious. PAD individuals, communities and activists slowly dislocate themselves from each other and stop trusting their community leaders’ judgement.
Historically, and now in 2023, we can see the impact has been catastrophic for PAD communities.
Jones, 2000; Pheterson, 1986; Watts- Jones, 2002, shares that: “Internalised racism is likely to consist of self-hatred, self-alienation, self-concealment, fear of violence and feelings of inferiority, resignation, powerlessness, and accepting limitations to one’s full humanity, including one’s right to self-determination and one’s range of allowable self- expression.”
Green, 1994, and Jones, 2000, as cited in Williams, 2008, share that: “Internalised racism can cause people of colour to become inhibited or emotionally constricted when dealing with other people of colour and white individuals.
“It can block positive economic, educational, and political participation by breeding a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that discourages people of colour from believing in their abilities to affect.”
It is PAD’s individual and the community’s collective responsibility to question and challenge the knowledge of self and our leaders on this vital topic of internalised racism and trauma.
Pastors, civic leaders, community activists, parents and carers must learn to recognise the signs of internalised racism and its association with trauma for PAD communities.
If we start to recognise internalised racism and trauma collectively, we can build trust in each other and successfully create sustainable social and economic thriving PAD communities.
Moreover, PAD leaders and the communities they represent must collectively find ways to influence school education psychologists to investigate the relationship between internalised racism, trauma, school exclusions, high unemployment and the escalating violence that plague PAD communities.
Professor of Counselling Psychology Dr Divine Charura, in April 2023, shared his invaluable insights into how intergenerational trauma can affect us.
More importantly, what PAD can do to address mental health and wellbeing, and what public sector agencies and community stakeholders must consider
(video link: https://youtu.be/W9sePvjrXXw).
Everyone is responsible for identifying the levels of internalised racism within themselves and the community they represent to foster meaningful relationships and to tackle internalised racism and trauma head on, collectively and successfully.