I had a boyfriend once who always complained that my friends and I spoke way too much Twi (a Ghanaian Akan language) and this, according to him, made us appear “too local.” He was almost embarrassed by that…
At the young age of about 8, I overheard a conversation between two elderly women at the church I grew up in. One of the ladies, a deaconess at the church, was bragging about how her young daughters who at the time had never been anywhere outside the country hated most of our local Ghanaian dishes (fufu in particular). The second lady, in somewhat full admiration, praised the deaconess for raising her kids like “white kids.” The deaconess, feeling so proud of her achievements, laughed heartily at the remark and went on to some other grown-up topic which was of no interest to me…
In the High School I went to, not only was speaking any non-Western language an offense; it could land you a weeding slot in virgin forests. Repetition of this offense could land you even damaging labels as a permanent deviant…
In an informal debate that sprung up during a potluck in my apartment, a colleague of mine recounted an incident where an older member of her community was lamenting about the “declining morals of the church.” Her concern? The growing trend of young folks today going to church in their naturally twisted and locked hairs!!! In her own words, “how is the church even permitting these unkempt and ungodly hairstyles?”
I could give several of such interesting cases but what really is the point I’m making? Utterances and situations like these have always caught my attention but I never really knew how to discuss them. In my experiences in graduate school, I have only now discovered that in most colonized and oppressed groups, these are traits of internalized racism/internalized white supremacy. Some also call it internalized white oppression.
By simple definition, this trait is a side effect of long term oppression. What really makes this serious is not just the experience of oppression, but that the oppressors/dominant group leave behind and put in place systems and mechanisms that maintain, produce, and circulate their oppression/superiority. What’s worse, internalization is really when the oppressed themselves accept the rules that define their inferiority and maintain those rules by promoting and socializing their own to conform.
Interactions with some Africans both home and abroad reveal that internalized racism is so ingrained in our systems and mental faculties. It is subtle and features in every aspect of our lives – our homes, schools, churches. For the ordinary African, alienation and distancing ourselves from our culture and identity is what earns us legitimate and recognizable favorable slots in the global world. To be Black/African thus, is to be self-hating.
For most African women, there is only a fine line between wanting to look beautiful/attractive and wanting to look Caucasian. Africa as a continent is having to counter Western media’s images of poor and starving kids as Africa’s identity with skyscrapers as if to say tall buildings equals development. Modern charismatic churches have in their bragging rights now “a no-Twi speaking” and a “suits-only” policy, propagating the illusion that somehow looking and sounding “white” gets us closer to God.
Celebrated Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said, “show a people as only one thing, and that is exactly what they become.” Since its abolishment, slavery has left the oppressor looking for other means to continue colonization, for only in our acceptance of inferiority does the oppressor gain superiority. Ngugi refers to it as a cultural bomb; Bob Marley called it mental slavery. During and even after slavery, Western media and their cultural industry propagated racism in their various outlets. It would surprise you to know that research on cartoons dating back even as recently as the 80s demonstrate subtle but serious cases of racism. For long, some of these images have become normalized for the oppressed—they have become a major part of their worldviews.
This is not to say the culture industry needs to be avoided, but such images are effective when consumers are passive. It is for this reason that early African artists embarked on a mental emancipation campaign in their various forms of arts. They were conscious of their situations, they were aware of their plights, and they constantly reminded their people of their common vision. Old movies like our very own “Heritage Africa” tackled simple but moving topics like the ironic existence of religion and racism, in a move to get viewers to think about identity and self-discovery. Lucky Dube sang, “They don’t build schools anymore, all they build is prisons.” Right from the beginning, he knew that the long term tradition of the incarceration of Black men—our fathers, sons and uncles—would cause a gap somewhere in the future of Black families. And Chinua Achebe and his cult of early African writers joined in to bridge the incomplete stories Western writers told us about ourselves, about Africans.
If recent culture products which seem to portray unsuccessful attempts at attaining whiteness is anything to go by, we can claim that along the line, African culture producers seem to have lost focus. Our story lines are becoming abysmal, way too hypothetical and certainly unrealistic. Nonetheless, there still are some that have remained undistracted, recognizing that our emancipation is not in pleasing anyone, but ourselves. In this regard, my call is for us to thrash that outrageous goal of meeting Western standards. After all, being Black is itself a social construction. Indeed, any false skin tone alterations or close-enough English accents do very little in making us immune to the negative connotations that come with being Black.
The way forward is to create, consume and circulate our own stories and content while being cognizant of what goes on in the wider, global world, and how we can relate to it. And just like all serious business is done, we need to attack such story creation and consumption vigorously by falling on every available means of reaching into the mindset of our people. Internalized racism is a disease; are you willing to join the growing consciousness and desire for African authenticity? Join us here on Sankofa Reviews as we take a step in reviewing our creative contents and material products that serve as gateways to the creation and shaping of perspectives.
Efe Plange is founder and editor of Sankofa Reviews. She is a Graduate Teaching Instructor, and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Technical Communication at Michigan Technological University. She is passionate about the Arts and Cultural industry and her background in the field is fueled by a longstanding dream of seeing theory work together with practice. Connect with Efe on social media: efplange_gh on both Instagram and Twitter, and Efe Plange on Facebook.
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