Updated: May 19, 2022
Have you ever felt like you did not belong? The majority in the U.S. are white people. If you are not white and grew up in the U.S., you might have experienced the feeling of not belonging. Media is slowly changing these days, but if you grew up in or before the 90’s, it was very uncommon to see an Asian face on screen.
For some, this led to wanting to become/assimilate to the dominant culture, which might have contributed to internalized racism. This can include catering or prioritizing the needs of white people above your own. For example, if you see a white person crying, you may prioritize their distress over your own since they and society pull for it. In doing so, we invalidate our own feelings. For others, there is a continued search for representation similar to their own and glomming onto it like the first time seeing Lucy Liu as you were growing up, especially if you have an Asian background. Likely, you have experienced a combination of both.
There is always a subtle or obvious putting down of all cultures that are not aligned with the dominant white culture and pushing the white agenda forward, which keeps rich white people in power.
What is Internalized Racism?
According to the American Psychological Association (n.d.), “racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on physical properties, such as skin color and hair texture. This “system” unfairly disadvantages some individuals and groups and damages their health and mental health…Racism is structural, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized.” When racism is internalized, you hold those racist beliefs to be true and even direct it at yourself or people similar to you in racial/cultural identification.
This typically begins at a young age. It can be learning to disconnect from one’s own culture, such as Asian cultures, and adopting white cultural ideals. It can be allowing the dominant culture to discriminate and hold prejudices against your culture. There can be a belief that in order to be successful in America, one has to be like the dominant culture, including behaviors, actions, and language spoken. It can also be shown in separating yourself from a recent immigrant of a similar cultural background. It can be not wanting to associate with any people from your own culture, including not being friends with or not dating people of a similar cultural background.
Why is Learning About Internalized Racism Important?
The most basic answer is when we internalize racism, we invalidate our own experiences and prioritize another’s experience. We continue to hurt ourselves, and people like us. It makes it okay for the dominant culture or other cultures to treat us negatively when in reality, it is not. It can negatively affect and cause disparities in employment, housing, health, economic status, and more. There is nothing wrong or bad about any one race/ethnicity, but racism lives off of it. The only one who really benefits from racism is the dominant culture, often times rich white people. No one else really wins.
How to Challenge Internalized Racism
Internalized racism is not easy to challenge or to become aware of since it likely started at a young age. It was likely developed through messages in your environment, including family, friends, media, and the broader society. If you want to begin challenging or becoming more aware, feel free to get started with the questions below:
Do you notice prioritizing other cultural backgrounds, especially dominant culture, above your own?
How do you feel when people lump you in with others from your similar background?
Are there times when you pretend or want to be of another cultural background?
Do you hold any stereotypes around your own culture?
This process of increasing your own awareness of racism can be rather difficult since most can live their whole lives without being aware of it. Use the above questions as a springboard. The Racial Equity Tools site has great resources for you to continue your journey.
If you are interested in getting help with descontructing this, feel free to contact us through our site.
Stay tuned. The next topic is "Asian American Mental Health."
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Racism, bias, and discrimination resources. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/racism-bias-discrimination
Racial Equity Tools:
Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.