The Psychology of Racism: Failing to Define the Black Identity
The Psychology of Racism: Failing to Define the Black Identity ~ I hold a strong belief in the premise that identity is the single most important element of the human existence. When an individual, or in this case, a group or race of people are disconnected from their identity, the subsequent identity crisis creates multitudinous issues that negatively impact how they view life, respond to adversity and develop long-term expectations. In his most compelling literary work, Black Skin, White Mask, Frantz Fanon, made it very clear that the role of identity is essential to the development of a positive self-image (Fanon, 1952). Guy Greenfield was another brilliant mind in the field of psychology that placed great emphasis on developing a positive sense of self in his book Self-Affirmation (Greenfield, 1988).
The human self-image is how a person views themselves. The self-image is determined through a number of processes early in life, and once the self-image is solidified, it begins to foster the development of paradigms — the lenses through which we see and respond to life. Greenfield references the importance of the inherent role of the parents as the primary label givers in the process of their children developing a positive self-image. Through reflective appraisals, the child is able to determine how their parents and others view them. They will either accept the appraisals or reject them; however, it is likely that they will accept them, at least in part, because of the gravity given to the role of the parent by the child.
Another important element involved in the process of developing a self-image is the sense of identity of the child. What does the child identify with? This is more than the reflective appraisals that come from those within the child’s periphery. That thing that the child identifies with is greater than themselves. It is a history, a status or a position that they can readily relate to. Their family may have a history of existing in the realm of aristocracy or royalty, or their family or race may have descended from great warriors. The sense of identifying not only sets personal expectations, it also establishes the norms and standards for behavior.
In her work, The Importance of Identity, History, and Culture in the Wellbeing of Indigenous Youth, Lisa Wexler goes into great detail in outlining the profound disruptions, epidemics and malfunctions of a group of indigenous youth when exposed to forced education, cultural colonization and genocide over a prolonged period of time (Wexler, 2009). Not only do these nefarious impositions impact the psychological health of these youth, it impacts their behavior and decision making capabilities. Identity establishes the parameters that govern belief systems, expectations, responsibilities and more. When a person or group is suffering from an identity crisis, they do not have the foundation upon which they can establish a clear and direct path to personal improvement — meaning that they will have a tendency to behave capriciously as their thoughts vacillate between paradigms and interpolated ideologies that are interposed by others.
What has to be considered when evaluating these findings is the fact that these studies deal with the colonization of indigenous people. When it comes to African Americans, the fact that we are a dislocated and displaced group must also be considered. Our existence in a land that is not our indigenous home contributes to the struggle to find our sense of identity. This is why many blacks refuse to be identified as African American, while demanding that they be simply considered an American. For the majority who take this position, it escapes their sense of rationale that they are identifying with the very system that they claim is oppressing them, subsequently identifying with their role within that system of existence. Blacks have been treated as inferior in America since the first slave ship docked here. When the only identity a child has is that of a slave or an oppressed group, it limits their expectations, and it slowly drains their creativity and aspirations to achieve greatness, in order to allow them to align themselves with what they believe is their reality.
Robbing a child of their history hides from them the totality of their existence. Empirical and pragmatic evidence exists that reveals the fact that a person who does not have an adequate sense of identity, or one that identifies with an inferior existence, will be more likely to accept unfair treatment and injustice, even in a nation of geographic area in which injustice is not tolerated. It was Carter G. Woodson, who spoke of the power in having the ability to control what a man thinks. Woodson, who was a strong advocate of black children being aware of their complete history, pointed out that limited access to identity increases the ease at which a person can be controlled (Woodson, 1933). In essence, a person who does not have a strong sense of identity to something of power and worth can easily find themselves believing that their suffering is their lot in life.
Sometimes, the most profound discoveries emerge from the simplest of contemplations. In my most recent scientific dissertation, I examined the influence of negative or distorted cognitions on the social mobility and mental health on blacks. At the core of my research surrounding distorted cognitions is a simple question: How do these people, who are descendants of enslaved and displaced African people, feel on a daily basis. In essence, I had to examine the question of the mental condition of blacks on an everyday basis. Why does this simple question have such an impact on the discovery and identification of the negative force that plagues the black collective in America? It is because this question will ultimately force us to acknowledge the problems of black people in America. It is not uncommon to pretend that the consistent machinations of a counter system are not at play; however, when simply examining how blacks feel on a daily basis, it forces us to look at what they deal with on a daily basis.
Not only are we forced to observe the multitudinous challenges that the average African American has to deal with, but we are also forced to deal with the reasoning behind their seeming willingness to do so. The ability to effectively analyze feelings is immensely important in understanding the plight of blacks because feelings have the capacity to connect human beings across the planes of physical distance and time. Basically, those who once lived are effectively connected to those who are now living through their experiences. This type of feeling is actually a part of the memory process. It is the result of the recording of certain experiences that are structured in a particular way, by the narrator, in a manner that communicates the actual nature and interpretation of the experience. This type of preservation of human feelings across time is also referred to as “cultural memory,” which is an element that is essential to the development of a sense of identity — leading to a sense of self.
Collective memory is a reality that is based on the compilation of symbols, signs and practices, which is a social phenomenon, being opposed by the counter-memory of small groups and individuals. In this particular system of memory, individual memory is established as the means through which symbols, signs and practices are interpreted. Conversely, forgetting can be understood as the treatment of weak points — how people engage the negative or insignificant elements of history. What is often experienced in this phenomenon is that society tends to forget about the atrocities and the mistreatments of the past, which allows for the superficial healing of wounds; however, the risk of revisiting the same fate increases exponentially. Basically, the lack of connection to the past allows for a development of a pseudo-euphoria and a false sense of security, but this euphoria has no power to protect the social group that is engrossed in it from future harm of the same nature.
When we examine the current psychology of African Americans, it is evident that certain collective cognitions are prevalent in establishing prominent paradigms that impact the decisions and behavior of blacks in a manner that is nonconductive to the elevation and the empowerment of the race. There is a systematic conditioning of the black psyche that disrupts any idea of social elevation, unification and cooperative economics on any type of massive scale. While the number of blacks who are becoming aware of the need for economic empowerment increases, the lack of identity is serving as a significant impediment to the idea of the unification of the race for the purpose of advancement in all areas of existence.
Carter G. Woodson pointed out a very powerful truth when he spoke of controlling the thoughts of a man. In essence, what he was saying is that the potential of a man is virtually irrelevant when his thoughts refuse to acknowledge the depth and power of the extant potential within him. Ultimately, a man whose thoughts foster an inferiority complex will purposely shrink back to fit into the parameters set by those thoughts. While these thoughts are likely the result of an erroneous concept of fallacious philosophy, the reality that has been created through these distorted cognitions is very real. It is real because the choices and decision that are made on the basis of the cognitions or thoughts are real, and they produce very real consequences.
The Psychology of Racism: Failing to Define the Black Identity
While it is easy to suggest that thought controls behavior, the complex dynamic, through which this takes place, must be understood in order to identify solutions to the current dilemma that is plaguing African Americans. There are actually numerous theoretical constructs which must be addressed when attempting to understand the complex dynamic of cognitive influence. Because of the wealth of scientific data that has been, and continues to be compiled, supporting the basis of cognitive theory, there is no need to address it in detail here; however, it is important to understand that intellectual stimuli, whether it is visual or audible, has the ability to impact the development of subconscious ideations or cognitions. It is also important to understand that the stimuli that is used to create the cognitions does not have to be true or accurate to impact the thought processes of a person or group.
Because blacks have no true sense of self, more readily identifying with a pseudo-culture forced upon them, it has become immensely difficult to convince the collective to move away from the confines of the social construct that surrounds that false culture. To exacerbate the matter, the true identity of African Americans is so antithetical to the reality that they have been exposed to until we have virtually been psychologically inoculated against it. There is a natural resistance to the introduction of a truth that is diametrically opposed to a reality that has been internalized and co-opted into the black existence.
If we, as a race of people, are to escape our collective inferiority complex, we must find a way to systematically combat the conditioning of our minds to behave in a manner that guarantees that we remain at the bottom of the social ladder. We must reshape the collective truth associated with our history and heritage — shedding our inferiority complex and embracing our potential for unlimited greatness! ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D., Psy.D.