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Internalized Racism Among Marginalized Groups is Real. How Can the Cycle End?

By Danielle Bae

Age Group: High School

There lies a small, rural town that sits near the outskirts of Michigan. Most people, when they visit this place, will think to themselves how utterly barren and dull it is. There’s no shopping mall, no skate park, no fancy restaurant; it is a gray kingdom with rusted, worn-down shops scattered here and there. The only ‘entertainment’ provided is a small bowling center that carries a distinct odor of sweat and steamed cabbage. A Target can be found after driving for twenty minutes, and the fanciest place you can book a birthday dinner at is Olive Garden.

It goes without saying that this town is predominantly white. Every family store you see is white-owned, every church you pass is preached by a white pastor, and every realtor you meet is clad in their pale, privileged skin. 

In a town such as this where everything seems to be dominated by one race, certain beliefs tend to become more frequently adopted than others. Its history is stained with years of racist sentiment, passed down through generations. Many people here are unaware that what they do and what they say is immoral. 

It is in these sorts of places that many people of different backgrounds start to adopt a new principle in their lives: internalized racism. Given these high-pressure conditions, many POC tend to feign ignorance just to ‘fit in’ with the crowd. Asians might force themselves to believe that pulling their eyes back is okay, since ‘it’s just a silly joke.’ Without fully knowing it, they start to harbor stereotypes against their own race, classifying it as a common practice. 

Surprisingly, internalized racism does not only sprout from rural communities. It can be found on social media platforms such as Instagram or TikTok, normalizing these racial stereotypes for people who live in progressive communities. 

Many influencers tend to implement these stereotypes without fully knowing it themselves. Viral posts or videos can also contribute to people subconsciously adopting such stereotypes to the way they view others. 

To put this into perspective for those who use social media, certain trends such as the “fox eye” trend have been known to depict how an entire race looks. People would stretch their eyes back ever-so-slightly as a ‘pose’ that made them look more classy, more refined. They asserted defensively, after causing an uproar from the Asian community, that they held no intentions of belittling Asians. Despite knowing that this was an act of cultural appropriation, and despite being called out for it, only a handful of individuals apologized. 

Such acts as the Fox Eye trend, used to demean, or appropriate, a specific culture, can sometimes have a significantly negative impact. If the perpetrator—be it a friend, colleague, staff member, co-worker, principal, professor—fails to be reprimanded for their actions, the victim may deem the offender’s faults as something ‘trivial’ rather than highly derogatory. The perpetrator, as well, may believe their acts to be ‘harmless,’ since they were not reprimanded accordingly. 

As these scenarios grow more repetitive, a cycle will most likely ensue: first and foremost, Person A will act prejudiced towards a specific person or group. Following that, the victim, Person B, will notice that what Person A is doing is wrong, but may be too scared to speak out against it. Third, no one will bother to point out that what Person A is doing is wrong. Because Person A recognizes that they were not faced with the appropriate consequences, they will attempt to justify their actions and assume that what they’re doing is acceptable. Lastly, they will repeat those same faults continuously and the cycle will repeat itself until they are called out by a large number of people in their community. 

This cycle is what continues internalized, as well as systematic, racism. Normalizing a system that ostracizes individuals deemed ‘different’ from those who are perceived as ‘normal’ is what inevitably leads to individuals demeaning their self-worth. Internalized racism has been claimed to be a difficult structure to dismantle, but I believe the solution is rather simple. Teaching those in our community to embrace and willingly accept people of different backgrounds into their lives will considerably decrease the number of people ashamed of their origins. Speaking up for others, as well as for yourself, may also disrupt the growth of cultural appropriation. Instead of entirely blaming our surroundings, perhaps we should look within ourselves and displace our insecurities with a resolution to fight for fair treatment for all as well as a willingness to acknowledge our own faults and shortcomings. Perhaps this small act of enlightenment will allow us to live not in a world of chaos, but in a world of harmony.

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