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Internalised racism and oppression

A guest blog by the Black Students Mental Health Project at London South Bank University (LSBU).This blog explains how racism can affect feelings of inferiority, hopelessness and low self-esteem and is a considerable mental health risk for the black community.

Headshot of Cheryl Taylor, LSBU Black Students Mental Health Project Officer

Cheryl Taylor

LSBU Integrated Wellbeing Advisor and OfS Black Students Mental Health Project Officer

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When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” 

Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro 

Racism is embedded in the fabric of British society and continues to be a considerable mental health risk factor for the black community. This is because racism is an organising structure of individual perceptions and personal experiences, which means that marginalised community members are constantly encountering racism on systemic, institutional and interpersonal levels. This can mean that, when racism is not named and properly processed, it may lead to the racist beliefs about marginalised communities, including the community a person belongs to, becoming internalised. 

What is internalised racism?

When racism is internalised, the person accepts the negative attitudes, beliefs, stereotypes and ideologies that the dominant society perpetuates about the marginalised racial group. The power that the dominant group holds in society enables them to determine what is correct, acceptable or normal. Any deviation from this standard is therefore labelled as incorrect, unacceptable and/or abnormal. 

In addition, internalised racist beliefs can become psychologically toxic and may evoke negative emotions which can lead to the onset of mental health conditions, such as depression. Internalised oppression is linked to feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, self-doubt, helplessness and hopelessness. It is also implicated in the self-perpetuation of oppression and an anti-black bias. 

Internalised oppression can emerge over time and may elicit denial and a sense of powerlessness. Some research suggests that internalised racism occurs through the shame and the humiliation that occurs when the self is repeatedly devalued. It should be noted that depression linked to racism could be suppressed rage. It might also be expressed through obesity, addictions, high blood pressure, stress or domestic violence. 

Understanding stereotypes

Understanding stereotypes and the role they play in hampering thinking capacity is important when exploring racism. Stereotypes are thinking shortcuts that we all use to sort or organise objects in our social environment. These can be particularly helpful in pressurised environments as they reduce the amount of brain power we need to process the things we encounter and help us to respond with speed. 

The problem with stereotypes is that they are generalisations and therefore do not take into consideration all of the available information. As such, they can often be linked to negative outcomes for the individuals or groups associated with them. There has been a considerable amount of research indicating that being conscious of a negative stereotype which relates to a specific aspect of your identity can lead to poor or underperformance.

As such, it is important to explore whether you have internalised negative stereotypes which result in internalised oppression and racism. You can begin to do this by asking yourself about how you have been racially socialised. 

Three more things you can do to help you on this journey

  • Explore your ethnic/racial history. 
  • Create a timeline of racialised experiences that have shaped your racial identity and begin to process those experiences in light of the new insights you have gained. 
  • Access culturally appropriate counselling or an emancipation circle group to help you to process your experiences. 

Useful resources

Mental wellbeing resources created by and for black students

This blog was written as part of the Office for Students (OfS) Black Students Mental Health Project at London South Bank University. Check out the full range of wellbeing resources available on the Good Thinking website.

Title graphic for the OfS Black Students Mental Health Project. The title of the project is written above a graphic of a group of black students. The OfS, LSBU and Good Thinking logos are displayed
Title graphic for the OfS Black Students Mental Health Project. The title of the project is written above a graphic of a group of black students. The OfS, LSBU and Good Thinking logos are displayed


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  • Bryant-Davis, T. (2007). Healing requires recognition: The case for race-based traumatic stress. The Counseling Psychologist, 35(1), 135-143.
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  • Kahneman, D., (2017). Thinking, fast and slow.
  • Molina, K. M., & James, D. (2016). Discrimination, internalized racism, and depression: A comparative study of African American and Afro-Caribbean adults in the US. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 19(4), 439-461.
  • Mwendwa, D. T., Gholson, G., Sims, R. C., Levy, S. A., Ali, M., Harrell, C. J., ... & Campbell Jr, A. L. (2011). Coping with perceived racism: a significant factor in the development of obesity in African American women?. Journal of the National Medical Association, 103(7), 602-608.
  • Neblett Jr, E. W., White, R. L., Ford, K. R., Philip, C. L., Nguyen, H. X., & Sellers, R. M. (2008). Patterns of racial socialization and psychological adjustment: Can parental communications about race reduce the impact of racial discrimination?. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 18(3), 477-515.
  • Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of personality and social psychology, 69(5), 797.
  • Wang, M. T., & Huguley, J. P. (2012). Parental racial socialization as a moderator of the effects of racial discrimination on educational success among African American adolescents. Child development, 83(5), 1716-1731.
  • Woodson, C. G. (1990). The mis-education of the Negro. Trenton. NJ: African.

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