Updated: Feb 5
By Sholdon Daniels
As a Black attorney practicing in the rural south, I've experienced the effects of internalized racism firsthand in my own community. Throughout my career, I've encountered many instances where I've received negative feedback and experiences from other Black individuals. This unfortunate reality highlights the issue of internalized racism, which is a manifestation of the systemic oppression that has historically plagued the Black community.
What does Internalized Racism mean? Internalized racism is the result of being conditioned to internalize negative beliefs about one's own race. This can manifest in various ways, including Black people expressing hostility or aggression towards other Black individuals. Refusing to do business with black-owned businesses, vote for black candidates, or to support other black people that they aren't directly related to them--are expressions of internalized racism. In my own personal experience, this often takes the form of Black individuals not showing support for other Black people, including those who are working towards the betterment of the community.
For example, I recently wrote a book that was designed to benefit the Black community, yet many so-called influential Black individuals in Sherman, Texas--my hometown--seemed to ignore its importance. This lack of support is a clear example of how internalized racism can prevent Black people from coming together and supporting one another. I assumed my book would be blackballed by the local white-owned media outlets, but to see my own people ignore my efforts to help them, well, it shows that my community still has a long way to go towards healing the effects of slavery and Jim Crow.
This internalized racism has been around for a long time. Fred Douglass, the famous abolitionist and former slave, noted in his autobiography that even among slaves from different plantations, there was often hostility and competition between them. They would often come to physical blows arguing over which slave master was the better master to be enslaved by. This was due to the slave masters' tactics of pitting slaves against one another, causing them to turn on each other instead of uniting against their oppressors.
The powers that be in my small hometown of Sherman have figured out how to perpetuate this kind of infighting to prevent any real attempts at uniting that local black community. They black-ball real activists and pro-black voices while elevating the voices of apologists and "acceptable negro" types. This carries the double-effect of preventing voices and views that are more representative of the ADOS community from being heard, and it sews division within the black community itself.
It's important for us to acknowledge and address internalized racism, as it only serves to continue the systemic oppression of the ADOS community. Not only, in small towns such as Sherman, but in the big cities as well. By recognizing and confronting our internalized beliefs, we can work towards creating a more united and supportive community. I speak about this in more detail in my book. However, here are some suggestions on how black solidarity can be reclaimed in the face of internalized racism. By taking these steps and working together, the black community can start to reclaim its solidarity and overcome the effects of internalized racism.:
Awareness: Understanding and recognizing the effects of internalized racism is the first step towards reclaiming black solidarity. You can't effectively fight an enemy that you don't even know exists.
Education: Educating oneself and others about the history of racism and its impact on black communities can help break down internalized racist attitudes and beliefs. You need to see the connected chain of racist events, racist actors, and racist institutions to get real context on how deeply systemic racism is in America.
Rejection of Negative Stereotypes: Rejecting negative stereotypes about black people and embracing positive images of blackness can help combat internalized racism. We often gaslight ourselves into perpetuating racist tropes by supporting anti-black music and culture and calling it "keeping it real." This has to stop.
Celebration of Black Culture: Celebrating black culture and the contributions black people have made to society can help promote positive self-image and pride in one's racial identity. I teach my kids to love themselves and their blackness. I teach them to appreciate those that came before them and to study history in order to make sense of the present. I advise all black parents to do this.
Intergenerational Dialogue: Encouraging open and honest conversations between generations of black people can help build bridges between different experiences and perspectives, ultimately promoting black unity. When I was a child, I had talks with my grandparents and other Black folks that attended segregated schools and had parents that were actually enslaved. This kind of experience was crucial to my understanding of a world designed to oppress me and keep me in the dark about how that oppression works.
Community-Building: Building strong and supportive communities that celebrate black culture, and foster positive relationships between black people, can help counteract the damaging effects of internalized racism. Strong supportive communities are made up of strong supportive individual family units. The ADOS community needs more strong black families if it has any chance of ever seeing a truly post-racial America.
As a Black Man, an attorney, and a father of black children, I believe it is my duty to raise awareness about internalized racism and its damaging effects on ADOS and the greater Black community. I hope that by shining a light on this issue, we can work together to heal and overcome the harm caused by internalized racism. Only then can we truly begin to move towards a post-racial America.
Follow me on Twitter at @SholdonDaniels and give me your feedback.