black history diversity

Time To Talk About It: The Black Self-Identity In Crisis

Anti- blackness is a social construct recognised as a collective consciousness of racial prejudice against black individuals. It elevates in complexity when discussing racialised groups as it becomes unorthodox to assume that this conception is significant in forming the black identity. As stated by Richard L Allen anti-blackness can create ‘a web of anti-self-images, generating a personal and collective self- destruction’[1] drawing upon ideas of Afro-pessimism we can further develop our understanding of anti-blackness and its impact upon self-identification. For example, as a black individual it has somehow become relevant how dark your skin is. Its most likely down to the concept of white adjacency it states that ethnic minorities receive benefits because of their proximity to whiteness. This is highlighted in Discriminations such as colourism, it is a sad fact to recognise that how dark or light you are can determine how attractive or successful you are in society. These misconceptions can lead to damaging effects such as skin bleaching the act of skin- lightening goes beyond the physical, it can also be incredibly detrimental to self-confidence and mental health. Darker-skinned people report higher levels of microaggressions, from not just society but members of their own communities. Perhaps this originates from a historical standpoint; When deconstructing anti- blackness at its core is slavery and as stated by Allen there is ‘A worse form of slavery: namely one which captured the mind’[2]. There is a perpetual state of negativity that encapsulates the minds of many black individuals, blackness was and still is coterminous with slavery. Black people are perceived to share the same customs and cultures, with disregard to whether you’re from Jamaica or Nigeria, to put it plainly the western world doesn’t care. This lays the groundwork for sweeping negative generalizations, it denies black individuals the right to personhood and devalues their individual lived experiences. In turn most adopt a self-fulfilling prophecy creating identity crisis’s you can only be told so much by society that you’re ‘ghetto’, ‘criminal’ or ‘lazy’ before you internalise these stereotypes and believe them. After slavery was abolished, former slaves were plagued with the “negro disease” the belief that black people were inherently lazy and the many people who moved from the Caribbean to Britain still face the same racial prejudices. Kimberle Crenshaw suggests that black identities are often ‘Traveling between dualities of Manichean space, rigidly bifurcated into Light/dark, Good/Bad, White/Black’[3] evidencing that there is a state of confusion about self-identity within the black community. In the current climate where white on black racism is hyper visualised there is a commonly held belief that white people are the only aggressors of anti-blackness and that as another societal marginalised group you cannot hold anti–black views. Society often lumps ethnic minorities together and while these terms can be useful in some situations, they shouldn’t be used in reference to a specific race unnecessarily. For instance, referring to a black woman as a ‘woman of colour’, when you could refer to her as black, can undermine her specific lived experiences of being black. The theory of Afro-Pessimism is significant in the black self-identity. The role of anti- blackness has a clear obstructive effect on the formation of the black identity prolonging consequential change. While everyone questions their sense of self from time to time having an identity crisis can have a big effect on everyday life so it is important to be aware of the negative feelings you have about yourself. Jabari Lyles fascinating Ted Talk discusses his personal journey to understanding and loving himself as a Black man, in spite of growing up among a predominantly white community. The ‘lessons of self-internalised racism’ talk is truly insightful and I encourage anyone to go watch especially if you have struggles with self-identity.

Jabari Lyles Ted Talk –(47) Black Self / White World — lessons on internalized racism | Jabari Lyles | TEDxTysonsSalon – YouTube

[1] Richard L Allen, The Concept of Self: A Study of Black Identity and Self-esteem (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001) p. 27.

[2] Allen. P. 48.

[3] Kimberle Crenshaw, ‘Critical Race Theory’ The Key Writings That Formed the Movement (New York: The New Press, 1995) pp. 287.

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