My Journey Overcoming Internalized Racism

January 17, 2017

by Darlene Robertson

Racism is an extreme behavior described by extreme hatred and prejudice towards other people with a different skin color. A lot of violent acts have been ‘justified’ by racist concepts and ideas that people have been taught throughout the ages.

As a white person, I was taught as a child of a Pentecostal preacher, that the whites are no better than any other race. I was taught that all races were created by the same loving God. We all bleed the same color of red. Keep in mind that color is only skin-deep, and should not be the sole basis of how to judge other people. Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way. I didn’t even realize I was a racist until a few months ago.

After attending a PWN Speak Up Conference, I realized that I was a racist. I used to say, “I do not see color, I just see fellow human beings,” and since found out that was a racist comment. I saw that even more after attending a racism workshop at my AIDS service organization and learned that racism started in England before America ever existed. People who were not white or rich were looked down upon and considered worthless. It is still the same today. Being poor all of my life, I could relate to how it feels to be worthless, feel like an outcast, mistreated and being look down upon by others. My experiences are nothing in comparison to other groups, but I truly can relate in many ways how other races feel better than ever.

A couple months ago, I walked through the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, AL. As I walked through it, I wept and felt so ashamed for being white. I read the Martin Luther King speech and walked away with a deep desire to help end racism, not just for the black community but for all communities, including the poor, that feel they are less than what they should be.

Overcoming my own racism has been a personal journey. I am on that journey now because I didn’t realize just how much of a racist I was. Most of my racism was more internalized than outward. Since then I have am committed to saying and doing the following:

1. I will not tolerate or condone offensive, hateful remarks or jokes about anyone, no matter their color of skin or low income status.
2. I will stand firm for support for racial and ethnic equality.
3. I will write to government officials about race problems that may take place in my community.
4. I will monitor my thinking and practice empathy when it comes to racism.
5. I will be aware of my thoughts when confronted with situations that trigger any prejudice I may have.
6. I will try to put myself in another person’s position and be mindful of how people different from myself might feel in a given situation, and how my actions might affect others.
7. I will stop using racial slurs that sometimes I am not aware of, language that has a racial meaning, such as terms like “Chinese auction,” “Indian giver” or calling a bad deal a “gyp,” a term derived from “gypsy,” which is in itself a racial slur against Romani people, that are considered offensive by many people.
8. I will be vigilant about systemic and invisible racism as I go through my day, thinking carefully about my own behaviors to make sure I am not engaging in forms of racism
9. I will seek culturally diverse experiences by taking time to observe (and hopefully appreciate) not only the differences, but also the similarities, between my culture and the one I am experiencing.
10. I will seek experiences with a variety of people, cultures, and environments that will make them easier to understand and appreciate.
11. I will attend conferences that are against racism in order to improve not only my own racial attitudes, but also society at large.
12. I will challenge racism in the world by changing my attitude to encourage others to look at their own racial inequality and actively challenge the racism in others.

I would like to encourage everyone to realize that they are worthy of dignity and respect and to think of everyone you encounter as an individual and not a member of a group. Once we all recognize individuals as human beings, with individual thoughts and rights, feelings and experiences, we grow, and learn to shed negative connotations about racism because in reality, we were all created equal.