In the decades before political correctness, Malcolm X put it plainly. White people taught black people to hate themselves. We can quibble over the details, and we should consider black resistance, but we cannot deny the truth of the intent of racism/white-supremacy. Chattel slavery in the Americas required black people to despise themselves. That point is irrefutable. But how relevant is that post-Civil Rights or post-Obama? Is black/African "self-hate" still in an issue in 2009? Occasionally I have wondered if discussions about how racism/white supremacy has damaged black self-image have been overdone or played out. I don't anymore...
Researcher: "Why is that doll ugly?"
African American child: "[pointing to black doll] Because he is black."
I do wonder about the "rigor" of the research. Surely not every black child favored the white doll? Did the researcher(s), for example, attempt to control for class? Reservations aside, even a single child responding in this way is alarming.
Question: Is "internalized racism" mostly a USA problem? Is it exaggerated? Do Brazilians or Haitians face similar challenges? What about Nigerians or Kenyans or Ghanaians? How has racism/white supremacy impacted the consciousness and actions of black people globally?
Update 2: Serena Williams reveals some of her struggles with body image in her new memoir On the Line. (source: BlackInformant)
Update: Mike Barber has cross-posted the video on his blog, A Past, Denied: the Invisible History of Slavery in Canada. He raises some interesting questions regarding the link between Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and what folks sometimes refer to as "internalized racism" or "mental slavery" or, my favorite, from the Nation of Islam and popularized by Malcolm X--"death, dumb, and blind." (Something about that phrase and how Malcolm would use it in his speeches always left a vivid image in my mind as to the social and psychological costs that racism/white supremacy has rendered to white supremacists and their non-white victims).
Below, I have reposted my comments on the topic:
as it turns out i have done a few inquiries on BDD and Michael Jackson. Below are some of the questions i put to a colleague doing her dissertation on BDD.
“i, and many african americans, have always assumed MJ’s skin lightening, straightened hair (or wigs) and multiple face reconstructions were obvious manifestations of racism–of mike trying his best to comply with white aesthetic and racial norms. but a friend [suggested that MJ had BDD]…how does BDD account or control for “normative” ideas that are the legacy of white supremacy? many black americans, myself included, struggle with imposed categories of beauty. black women, for example, have internalized white female hair standards as “normal.” If Michelle Obama is pressing her hair routinely to meet a white aesthetic is that compulsive or pathological? Where is the diagnostic line drawn for black patients? Indeed can it be drawn w/out some how incorporating the backstory of race and racism in America?”
Here are a few things i learned from my friend who is doing BDD research:
1. BDD is not well studied as of yet. Its a relatively new field.
2. As far as I can tell psychologists (psychiatrists?) typically think of BDD as something beyond racism. It is not, however, uncommon for BDD to have a racial component (she mentioned, for example, that a BDD sufferer can be obsessed with their “Jewish nose.”) Because research on BDD is in its infancy, there is very little data on the intersection of cultural norms or “internalized racism” and BDD.
3. MJ was never actually diagnosed w/BDD. It requires and consultation w/ a professional clinician. But two psychologists I consulted were confident that he suffered from BDD and was not simply “trying to be white.”
4. Diagnosing BDD is the subjective decision of the clinician but the symptoms are so severe that it is reasonably straightforward to diagnose.
I have been referred to a clinician who is actually doing research on the intersection of racism/race and BDD, but I have not had the time to follow up as of yet. kzs