Internalised Racism

Like most people, there are little things that irritate me; people dropping litter on the pavement or putting their feet up on the seats in trains, chewing gum loudly, these minor irritations pale into insignificance when I think about the issue that irritates me the most and it’s when black and ethnic (BME) people try to explain away and/or justify some behaviours of white people to other BME people by denying or questioningthe data or trying to explain away the everyday experiences of their fellow BME colleagues by saying, “Well I have never experienced discrimination”, or “They didn’t mean it, they were only joking”.

As I have become more knowledgeable about race and it’s deeply complex and difficult nature, I have had to come to terms with some very hard truths about myself and others and have tried my best to be reflective and thoughtful in order tounderstand the many different aspects, facets and componentsof the thing called race inequality, and believe me there are many.

The phenomenon where the BME person will say, we don’t need a BME network because it’s not fair to our white colleagues or its divisive and unhelpful to have BME only programmes simply shows how far we have to go with our colleagues, black and white to finally achieve equity. A lack of understanding and ignorance about the issue of race is widespread amongst BME as well as white people. I have had BME people argue with me about the unfairness of ringfencing posts for BME senior leaders, even though history shows they are often more at risk of losing their jobs during reorganisations than their white counterparts.

As the director for WRES I am privileged enough to travel across the country meeting people in many different organisations. Over the last few years I have witnessed this behaviour on numerous occasions. Letters of complaints from BME staff written to CEOs complaining that development programmes had been offered to them and not their white colleague and how unfair it was for their white colleagues. I have had people say, “What about other white people that are foreign, Eastern Europeans for instance, you should include them in your work too as its not fair to exclude them” This is often said with little understanding that whatever the nationality of the individual white skin affords them more privileges in society than BME people. I agree that all discrimination is wrong but the fact is that some people experience more discrimination than others and this is often based on ethnicity and skin colour. Many BME people say, “I don’t want special treatment, I just want to be treated like everyone else and seen for my skills and talents not my colour” Unfortunately the data and evidence shows that BME people are treated less favourably than others and in order for there to be equity, we need to use positive action programmes and other initiatives like a Model Employer in order for BME people to catch up.

I know these statements are made with every sincerity and that people are saying what they believe to be true, nevertheless...

The research shows that 2/3rds of white people have deeply entrenched racial biases and attitudes but even more interestingly is that Dr Jerome Taylor of Pittsburg University found that a 1/3rd of blacks in his US studies scored high on internalised racism, this means they have bought into the myth that black people are just not good enough. This comes from years of hearing and seeing negative portrayals of black people. Dr Yin Paradies at the Deaking University in Australia also found that one third of Australian Aboriginals score high on internalised racism. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) found that 70% of Americans (all professional groups, all racial/ethnic groups, with one exception) score highly on having an anti-black bias. It also found that 30% of all blacks also have an anti-black bias, that’s one in three black people believe in the negative stereotypes about their own race.

I remember Harvard Dr David Williams giving me a live example of me how this phenomenon works. He pointed out that a black republican and ex surgeon by the name of Dr Ben Carson in the US was more disrespectful and rude about President Obama than many white people had been. His verbal tirade against Obama was welcomed by fellow republicans giving him status and a level support he had not had before from his white peers. His offensive comments about Barack Obama were part of Carson’s appeal to conservatives who detested the President during his six-plus years in office.

Racism is a well organised and deeply engrained social system in which the dominant racial group, based on an ideology of inferiority, categorises and ranks people into social groups called “races” and uses its power to devalue, disempower, and differentially allocate valued societal resources and opportunities to groups defined as inferior. Internalised racism occurs when BME people buy into this ideology about their own people and in order to win favour with the dominant group will say and do things which might negatively impact on themselves and other people of colour.

Part of my role as Director of the WRES is to inform people,about the deeply complex nature of race inequality, how it manifests itself and to help people BME and white understand that the concept of race is based on power structures, highlighting who has power and who has not and in doing so enabling people to realise that additional help and support for the group that has fared poorly for generations does not take away benefits and privileges of the group that has done better but like proportionate universalism, lifts us all up.


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