Discussing internalized racism

Eyes follow you as the rich smell of curry carries across the cafeteria when you open your lunchbox. Middle schoolers around you deliberately sniff the air with suspicion and whisper, “Ew,” to one another. Someone yells at you to put that away. Your cheeks turn red. You can feel your heart racing and your eyes well up with tears.

You go home and ask your mom to give you a burger tomorrow.

You begin to get used to the taste and ease of eating pizza, preferring it over the labour of your parents’ hands all because of one incident.

But five years later, you call your mom from your dorm room. “I miss your food—can you pack me some for next week?” It hits you like a wave when you release yourself from the burden of your self-hatred.

This is an example of internalised racism in action.

Internalized racism is a hardly talked about term. Few know what it means but when they learn the definition, a lot of people nod their heads in agreement because most of us have experienced it at least once in our lives.

The term has come to be loosely understood as the adoption of racist views by racialized individuals against others within their own race.

Tehreem Tufail, a second-year political science student, says that generally, internalized racism is insulting a part of your culture that is “contradictory with Western culture”.

This hierarchical way of thinking consistently ranks whites above people of colour and places even more barriers when it comes to attaining racial equality. Colourism, skin-bleaching, and lightening creams are both a reason for and a result of internalized racism. A lot of times, being bullied because a few features make you a distinct part of your ethnic group is what causes people to first loathe themselves and then loathe their own race.

“I didn’t know there was a term for the entire situation,” says Khadra Omar, a third-year CCIT major. “In high school, a few girls used to complain that they couldn’t be in the sun for too long because they were going to get ‘too dark.’ ”

“Even subconsciously, over here, especially from a young age, you want to start dressing like  [non-POC], talking like them, and you’re embarrassed of your own culture and food,” says Nadia Fakhry, a second-year criminology and sociolegal studies major.

Last Wednesday, U of T’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office hosted the “Unfiltered: Truth Talks” event, which was a safe space for students to come and engage in open conversation about internalized racism.

According to their website, the mandate for the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office involves the creation of events that “highlight the intersection between the academic work in the areas of ethno-cultural diversity, critical race-related issues, and issues of relevance to the larger community on campus”.

“This session will engage students on how they’ve managed to move through/past internalized racism and other oppressions it intersects with. The session seeks to explore ways we transform self-hate into self-love and care. Through this dialogue, we hope to explore what it truly means to be proud of one’s identity,” said Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, an anti-racism and cultural diversity officer.

Given that the Unfiltered: Truth Talks event was a safe space for the sharing of personal and sensitive experiences, The Medium was not able to report on the content of the event.

“We work hard to foster a safer environment for students, which includes respect for their privacy and a peer-focused space. In keeping with this, the space is closed to media, for research, and the general public [outside of U of T],” added Carnegie-Douglas.

The Unfiltered: Truth Talks launched in 2013 and is currently run on all three campuses.

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