?Over the last 500 years, our country has established and battled one of the largest socio-tragedies known to man: racism. While this pestilent issue has affected many ethnic groups, the most publicly known is the racial discrimination concerning African Americans. By my reasoning, along with many sociologists and psychologists, racism is the root cause of African American race socialization.
Race socialization is the theory of verbal and non-verbal messages being transmitted to specific ethnic groups for the positive or negative development of behaviors, philosophies, morals, and attitudes concerning the significance and importance of racial stratification, intergroup interactions, and personal and group identity. The timespan in which I will be surveying connects milestones of race socialization with many of the most significant moments in United States history.
The primary sources I will be using as support for this paper will be several works by W. E. B. Du Bois1 and a book by Dr. Faye Belgrave entitled African American Psychology: From Africa to America2. The psychological effect that racism and race socialization has had on African Americans is more than apparent not only through texts written by various sociologists and psychologists, but also throughout history. I will focus on a specific fifty-year span when race socialization took effect, racism was socially acceptable and ultimately racism was combatted.
It is my purpose in this paper to discuss, examine and determine the psychological effect that racism and race socialization has had on American citizens of African descent between the timespan of 1870 to 1970. To better recognize the psychology behind African American race socialization, the idea of racism has to be understood. Racism is the belief that all members of each race possess the same characteristics and abilities. Racism came about when the Caucasian race felt superior to other ethnic groups and began categorizing them by their combined racial and ethnic traits.
The problem with the categorization is that race and ethnicity are not the same thing3. Racism uses ethnic traits and forces them onto a group of people as their “race”. Ethnicity is considered to be similar cultural factors like nationality, culture, ancestry and language. While race is comparable physical appearances like skin, eyes, hair and jawbone structure. Combining these two factors and using them against people who appear to be similar is exactly where racism stems4. Another strong belief is that racism plays on the weaknesses and self esteem of the targeted group.
In Dr. Faye Belgrave’s book African American Psychology: From Africa to America, she discusses how racism and racial identity are directly influenced by the Western ideology of self-esteem. Dr. Belgrave concludes that racism, in regards to anyone of African descent, should not be defined by Western ideologies because they are not of Western descent. This is explained on page 11 of her book5. In understanding what self-esteem is from an African as well as a Western perspective, one must understand the difference between Western and African conceptions of the self.
Using a Western definition, self-esteem can be defined as a feeling of liking and regard for one’s self. From an Africentric perspective, the personal self is indistinguishable from the self that is derived from membership in the African community (Nobles, 1991). Therefore, one’s affiliation to one’s group defines one’s view of self. The African proverb, “I am because we are and we are because I am,” characterizes this notion of the self. Thus, the self-esteem of people of African descent may be different from that of Whites, and it also may function differently for African Americans than for Whites.
Dr. Belgrave continues her thoughts on self-esteem and the many other factors that contribute to racism in chapter 9 of her book. It is the belief of many that racism is a part of human nature. I, however, believe that to be untrue because it is well known that the terms “race” and “racism” are modern inventions originating from the 1500s. Racism has historically been used as a form of oppression to make a particular group feel inferior because of a difference in inherited characteristics. The Civil War6 abolished slavery and struck a great blow to racism.
But racism itself wasn’t abolished. Just as racism was created to justify slavery in the colonies, racism as an ideology was modernized and since majority of blacks still remained in the South, this affected the entire race. It now no longer warranted the enslavement of blacks, but it justified second-class status for blacks as inferior individuals. Racism also remained one of the main ways that the upper class used to keep colored and white workers divided. After the Civil War, Southern legislatures commenced the business of determining the social status of freedmen.
Some laws, known as the Black Codes7, granted to freedmen were legally recognized marriages, the right to own and sell property, and the ability to enter into business relationships. However, in most cases the black codes also prohibited African Americans from serving on juries, providing legal testimony and the right to an equal education. The codes also outlawed interracial marriage and created segregated public facilities. The codes prohibited younger African Americans from associating with any white peers. This meant that their so-called education was of a severely lesser quality.
Historians believe that one of the main reasons why Southern legislatures shied away from granting educational opportunities for blacks wasn’t because of ambiguous racism but because historians saw the “African factor”8 as the difference between success and failure. This suggested that the white’s racist view undermined any motivation for national unification through mass education. Well-known sociologist, W. E. B. Du Bois believed that the overall shortcomings of the black race fell entirely on the fact that blacks were not given the same opportunities as whites and it affected the psyches of each member of the targeted group.
In an essay by Du Bois entitled “Race Intelligence”9 Du Bois discusses the psychological effect of racism on younger African Americans: Then came the psychology: the children of the public schools were studied and it was discovered that some colored children ranked lower than white children. This gave wide satisfaction even though it was pointed out that the average included most of both races and that considering the educational opportunities and social environment of the races the differences were measurements simply of the ignorance and poverty of the black child’s surroundings.
10 Du Bois spent majority of his career observing the sociological factors surrounding African Americans and the hindrances in their paths. Du Bois’ works do not focus on making African Americans appear as victims but as something to learn and grow from. Du Bois believed racism had no place in this world. When the 1900s began and the Roosevelt Administration11 took over, race socialization was still being transmitted from older generations to younger. In 1903, Du Bois wrote a collection of essays entitled, The Souls of Black Folk12. In this book, Du Bois clearly states that the “problem of the twentieth century is the color line.
” The color line was the segregation between blacks and whites and what many African Americans believed would be the biggest problem for their race. This however, was untrue. What African Americans at this time didn’t know was that their daily dose of racism and discrimination was only the surface of their problems. What wasn’t seen at the time was the aftermath of what this entire decade of racism would cause for the entire race. The psychological affect of racism and eventual race socialization every future generation would face would be equally if not worse then what had already been suffered.
W. E. B. Du Bois believed that one of the race’s biggest struggles was constantly seeing themselves with such little respect and diminishing their self worth because of what the so-called ‘dominant’ race thought of them. This is also shown in Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk: “After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, —a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, —an American, a Negro… two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.
” 13 Du Bois life mission was to make a name not only for himself but also for his race and his country. This is reflected in his diary when he wrote, “I therefore take the work that the Unknown lay in my hands and work for the rise of the Negro people, taking for granted that their best development means the best development of the world…”14 Understanding racism in this way implores the strategy that we use to combat racism [socially] and the belief that racism has caused race socialization and directly influenced the slow progression, both academic and social, of African American people.
Over the last 50 years, psychologists and sociologists alike have tried to study the effects of racism on ethnic groups, especially African Americans, and have been uninspiringly successful. I believe that Dr. Faye Belgrave has the answer why. In her book, African American Psychology: From Africa to America, she explains why: “Some of the methodological issues that were historically problematic in studying African Americans remain today. The best methods for studying African American populations may differ from the methods for studying other ethnic groups.
For example, the experimental method is the favored method in psychology and has been considered the gold standard for con- ducting research. However, it may not always be the best way to arrive at an understanding of the psychology of African Americans. Other methods such as interviewing and observing may be more appropriate, depending on what is being studied. African psychology considers self-knowledge and intuition to be as important as source of knowing as observable data. Self-knowledge is derived from asking people about themselves not from observing them under experimental conditions.
”15 Perhaps the reason why we’ve had such a hard time pinpointing the real root of racism and thus a ‘cure’ is because it isn’t being studied or treated properly. The concept of racism is treated like any other social problem, not the disease that it is. Racism has developed from its initial form of discrimination into an entire ideology [race socialization]. Antiracist education is crucial, but not enough. Because it treats racism only as a question of “bad notions” it does not speak to the core surface conditions that allow the acceptance of racism among large sections of the country.
Entirely defeating the hold of racism on large sections of ethnic groups involves three circumstances: a larger group retaliation that ties together members of the ethnic group along the color line, attacking the circumstances (lesser pay, treatment, education, etc. ) that allow the attraction of racism to a so-called ‘superior’ ethnic group and the mindful involvement of antiracists to fight racism in all its forms and to win encouragement for interracial class unity.
Courtney from Study Moose
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