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When people are oppressed they can come to believe (internalize) the stereotypes, negativity, and myths about their identity communicated by the dominant group; at times even embracing the oppressive treatment as being normal, deserved, or inevitable. If an oppressed person begins to believe the inferiority imposed upon them by the dominant they have internalized that oppression. In recent years, there has been a shift away from referring to oppression as “internalized” because it places the blame of oppression on the marginalized individual or group rather than the dominant group.
Psychologist, Dr. Kira Banks has sparked our interest in thinking about oppression as being appropriated rather than internalized. This perspective helps us see internalized oppression NOT as an internal process but rather an external one. Appropriation takes place when someone adopts or borrows something from another culture or group. Thinking about oppression as being appropriated presents those experiencing oppression with a choice. Recognizing that we have a choice gives us power! Rather than just accepting the views of the dominant group, appropriation presents us with the opportunity to decide if we want to adopt or take on the ideas or expectations of the dominant group as being representative of our personal identities, abilities, or experiences.
When we think about oppression as being appropriated rather than internalized, we give ourselves greater agency. In other words, we get to decide if we wish to accept the beliefs and perspectives of an oppressor rather than automatically accepting (internalizing) them. In her youtube video, “Reframing Internalized Racial Oppression: Shifting Our Theory Of Oppression” Dr. Banks shares an example related to the stereotype of black women being viewed as loud that may be held by certain members of the dominant group. If a black woman internalizes this view, she believes this is inherently how she is. However, if she considers this as being appropriated rather than internalized, then she is seeing her oppressors perspective as being external to herself, not situated inside of her; but rather being situated within the environment (i.e. someone’s opinion that she gets to decide if she wants to accept or reject). In the video, Dr. Banks also highlights how internalized oppression can produce “John Henry-ism” behaviors where the oppressed tend to overcompensate in their efforts to meet the expectations of the dominant group or overcome its oppression. “John Henry-ism” represents a psychological construct developed by Dr. Sherman James in 1983 to describe “high effort coping that occurs when oppressed individuals push themselves to work harder or be better than the dominant group, in response to structural or systemic racism.” High effort coping and overcompensating can often lead to harm (mental, physical, emotional, etc.) We will delve deeper into John Henry-ism in a future blog post.
Adopting the perspective of oppression as being appropriated vs. internalized gives agency to those experiencing oppression; allowing for a choice of adopting, accepting, or rejecting views of the dominant culture. This opportunity to choose allows those who experience oppression to maintain their power and perspective rather than accepting labels and identities placed upon them by the dominant group.
Talk back to me Black Mail Fam!! Appropriated Oppression vs. Internalized Oppression? How might understanding oppression as being appropriated rather than internalized help to reduce, or mitigate the negative impact of oppression?
Another installment of melenated mail has been delivered. Ponder, reflect, and pass it on.