PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH:
The first psychological research on internalized racial oppression was a series of now-famous doll studies of Black children by two African American psychologists who interpreted the children’s preference for White over Black dolls as racial self-hatred (Clark and Clark 1939; 1952). This set the stage for later work that relies on quantitative measures of self-esteem, self-identity, self-image, psychological adjustment, and attitudes about one’s racial group to capture manifestations of
Internalized racism (Bloom 1972; Joint Commission on Mental Health of Children 1970; Taylor and Grundy 1996). More recent psychological research explores internalized racism’s deleterious effects on mental and physical health (Chambers, Tull, Fraser, Mutuhu, Sobers, and Niles 2004), marital satisfaction (Taylor 1990), and ethnic identity (Hipolito-Delgado 2007). Clinical psychologists (Fortes De Leff 2002; Semmier and Williams 2000) and the grass roots revaluation counselling movement (Lipsky 1987) discuss therapeutic responses to internalized racism, including its secondary effects within communities of colour, such as homophobia (Greene 2000) and domestic violence (Brice-Baker 1994).
What Is Internalized Racial Oppression and Why Don’t We Study It? 555. The early psychological research, particularly the “doll test” studies, were criticized for engaging invalid quantitative measures of racial self-esteem, identity, and preference (Baldwin 1979; Banks 1976), leading to calls for the doll test to “be laid to rest as a valid indicator of African-American children’s self-esteem”
(McMillan 1988:71; for a review, see McLemore 1994:135–37). Some also charged that the doll studies suggest to be Black is, by definition, to be self-hating (Comer 1970; Kardiner and Ovesey 1965), implying a fundamental “racial” personality type (Schaefer 2004:63). With the focus on the Black psyche, the larger problem of White racism seemed to disappear, leading many anti-racist scholars to reject this body of scholarship and avoid the concept of internalized racism altogether.
Community psychologists recently issued a call for research on internalized oppression designed to develop a “liberation psychology” by focusing on strategies for collective forms of resistance (Burton and Kagan 2005; Moane 2003:91; Watts and Serrano-Garcia 2003).
A shift from research on the individual psyche to collective forms of internalized oppression would bring attention to the structural reality of racial inequality that went largely unconsidered in the earlier psychological studies. Sociological research on internalized racial oppression has been far more sporadic and cursory than in psychology. There is no subfield in sociology devoted to the topic like in psychology. Mention of the concept tends to be fleeting (e.g., Allport 1954; Lee 1996; Lopez 2003:28) or isolated from a larger literature on the topic (Collins 1990; 2004; for exceptions, see Gilman 1986; Osajima 1993; Pyke and Dang 2003; Rodriguez 2006). Popular race and ethnicity textbooks often exclude the topic altogether or limit discussion to a definition of “racial self-hatred,”
which is a narrower and more politically volatile term than “internalized racism” (e.g., Aguirre and Turner 2004; Healey 2004; Kleg 1993:171–72; see McLemore 1994:135–37).
Sociologists have joined psychologists in the study of skin tone bias, particularly as it affects women. This research documents the effects of skin tone bias on intra-racial disparities in life chances including social desirability, educational attainment, occupational status, income, opportunities for marriage, self-concept, and self-esteem (Freeman, Ross, Armor, and Pettigrew 1966; Gómez 2000; Gullickson 2005; Hill 2000; Hughes and Hertel 1990; Hunter 2005; Keith and Herring 1991; Mullins and Sites 1984; Murguia and Telles 1996; Rondilla and Spickard 2007; Seeman 1946; Thompson and Keith 2001). This largely descriptive literature stops short of linking skin tone bias with a broader category of internalized (racial) oppression. Nonetheless, it provides a foundation on which more theoretically driven sociological work can build.
The neglect of internalized racial oppression is also apparent in the sociological study of immigration. Eurocentric models of acculturation and assimilation derived from research on earlier European immigrants shape this literature and are ill-equipped for studying today’s non-White immigrant groups (Kibria 2002; Park 2005). While immigration scholars acknowledge social structural inequality and assimilation pressures, they have yet to devote sustained attention to the acculturative mechanisms by which oppressed newcomers inculcate ideologies of White supremacy and racial oppression (for an exception, see Pyke 2000; Pyke and 556 SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES Volume 53, Number 4, 2010 Johnson 2003). Similarly, this literature has yet to consider the consequences for immigrants of colour who arrive having already imbibed in their homeland an ideology of White (Western) superiority dispensed through military, economic, religious, and cultural colonialism and imperialism (Kim 2006). This literature would thus benefit from greater attention to internalized racial oppression.
Part 4 to follow: