(part IV) – INTERNALISED RACISM (AND BLACK VICTIMHOOD)

KAMPALA – For me, this is a tricky subject. A (black) friend of mine once cynically remarked how black people do not need whites to suppress them. ‘We do that perfectly on our own’. While in some countries, black people are actively marginalised as a socio-economic entity and being denied equality of opportunity, in other countries the racism is much more embedded. In Uganda, there most certainly is inequality between expats and the majority of Ugandans, but also stark inequality between the rich and the poor Ugandans; – this country is an extremely class-based and materialistic society with an almost incessant focus on (male) social status. 

The social norms in Uganda that *made* me realise my whiteness are not really being enforced by people like me. In fact, the majority of expats here tend to be (or were) very aware of their privilege, although this awareness, awkward as it is, may decrease over time. The set of norms and values that make me important as a person here are mostly enforced by Ugandans themselves. Racism as a system might be reproduced and reconfirmed by my mere presence here (and who knows how I subconsciously might engage with this system), but the fact remains is that it is reproduced by anyone who willingly participates in it. In some situations, the marginalised have no viable choice (like women challenging the patriarch) to speak of, however, sometimes, people do. What would happen if every black person in Uganda would suddenly stop treating mzungu’s like they are better people? 

I argued in part I that institutionalised racism labelled black people and pushed them towards the recognition that their skin colour matters in this world. After centuries of treating black people as an inferior entity of people, the sense of collective identity remains. Black people are being talked of as a group as opposed to the extremely diverse peoples they are, different in nationality, religion, culture, etc. 

But what about the inferiority? What remains of the fully institutionalised and legalised racism of colonial times, Apartheid in South-Africa, and the half-baked “equality” of post-World War II in the West that all pushed the dogma of inferiority through the ideological state apparatuses (e.g. education), as Althusser put it, for hundreds of years, -what remains of that? 

Well, some refer to what remains of the most grotesque kind of racism as black victimhood or playing the race card. Some believe that subconsciously, black people still feel inferior. I have even heard people claim collective trauma (as in PTSD) inhibits socio-economic success of black Africans and African immigrants or minorities originating from the African continent. 

It is most certainly true every single one of us has internalised a large number of cultural norms and values over the years. Our societies are a construction of social networks united by collective identity (e.g. nationality) and shared values and norms. Internalisation of norms and values means the institution is reified, i.e. it is perceived as being *natural*, of course depending on how fundamental and important the value or norm is deemed. 

For example, within the institution of monogamy, cheating is considered immoral. Most people I know agree on the fact that cheating is bad. Monogamy, however, is just a set of values and norms we have agreed on, but people feel quite passionate about the issue because they have internalised it. Here in Uganda, monogamy is also institutionalised, but cheating occurs more often here, I have noticed. I don’t really know why, but evidently, the “ethics” of relationships are less internalised here and are enforced through extrinsic punishment-reward schemes (i.e. “you are fucked if you get caught” as opposed to “cheating is bad regardless of whether you get caught or not”). 

Some of these values and norms have been officiated in the forms of law and regulation. Others are social in nature. Racism at its absolute peak was regulation. A set of laws. Nowadays, in my country (in Europe), I’d say it is more of a social norm, with its corresponding value embedded deep in our collective subconscious of our culture. Institutionalised nonetheless, but in a number of social institutions. Sometimes it finds its way into legislation, but seldomly explicitly. 

On the other hand, the U.S. Republican suggestion to limit eligible voters to those who can identify themselves in order to battle non-existing voter fraud is not explicitly racist, but the disguise is so thin it’d be laughable if this was not such a serious topic. 

Either way, it is there, and it is internalised to some degree or another. And it affects everyone, albeit differently. In some countries, Black counter-hegemonic cultures have succesfully resisted these ideological state apparatuses, but permeation of a social system in the way you think and feel cannot be underestimated, and racism on everyone’s mind. 

I cannot really speak to how racism is internalised by Black people, and I don’t think one can decribe that accurately since the people I have asked about this all answered differently. Fact remains, it’s there. The realization of how fundamental racism is might be the first step towards addressing it. 

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