In your mind’s eye, picture the following scenarios:
A black woman in Nigeria bleaching her skin.
A gay man in the United States going through reparative or conversion therapy to cure himself of homosexuality.
A Korean woman getting surgery so that she can have a “fold” on her eyelids and be more attractive.
A young man with autism who refuses to be friends with other people with special needs, because he thinks this idea is “retarded.”
An Alaska Native woman who looks down on other Native people from the “village” and teases them for their “village accent.”
A man in the Philippines spending his hard-earned money to pay for treatments in a local skin-whitening clinic.
A mother in the United Kingdom who, while playing catch with her daughter, coaches her to “don’t throw like a girl.”
A Mexican American adolescent who is embarrassed of his parents as they struggled to talk with his teacher in their limited, broken, and accented English.
Although the attitudes and behaviors described above seem very wide-ranging, all of them actually have one common root: Internalized Oppression. Oppression can come in many forms, and we can be oppressed for various reasons – because of our race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, and others. When we accept or “buy-in to” the negative and inferiorizing messages that are propagated about who we are, then we have begun to internalize the oppression that we experienced. We have come to learn that - having certain traits, being a member of a particular group, and being who we are – are not good enough or are not desirable. Sometimes, we even learn to hate our traits, our groups, ourselves. Even further, sometimes we end up hurting ourselves, our communities, and those who share many similarities with us – the ones who likely care for us the most. This is why internalized oppression does not just affect a few individuals. Instead, internalized oppression can destroy families, cultures, and communities. And this is why I felt that a book is needed to show us that internalized oppression has already created such damages, and that it continues to do so.
Given the need for this book, Internalized Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups, I was very excited at the start to get to work and read the manuscripts from the contributors. Because each chapter includes heartfelt narratives and stories, however, I was quickly reminded that this work was not fun at all. The topic is already depressing enough, but also reading the narratives that express immense losses, sorrows, and pains gave me regular sensations of a knife piercing through my heart. As a Filipino American immigrant with a colonized mentality, internalized oppression has always been very real to me. I didn’t know it was possible, but reading the stories from many others who at the surface may seem very different from me, made internalized oppression even “more real.” Perhaps being “more real” means the realization that internalized oppression is more widespread and impactful than I previously thought. Whatever it means, I know that –despite the darkness and the bleakness – I came out of this experience feeling less alone and more inspired, connected, hopeful, and stronger than ever to address internalized oppression and its negative consequences on communities throughout the world.
It’s time for us to become aware of how internalized oppression may exist and operate within us so that we may begin to stop it, its effects, and the possibility that we pass it on to future generations. We’re not born hating ourselves; we learned that. Therefore, we can unlearn it. It’s not easy, but we need to.