As any one of our readers could see from my comment on Kate’s most recent post, I just took an Implicit Association Test. The test is designed to reveal any hidden or subconscious racial (or in other tests, gender, ability, etc.) preferences one might have. I expected I would probably end up with results that indicated a preference for light skin. I did. But, following the common adage, “everyone prefers their own” I was surprised when the test revealed the overall results for everyone who has taken the test. I won’t share the specifics, but you can see the breakdown for yourself if you go and take the test. But I can tell you that out of all the respondents, and there were many who were people of color, most of the respondents in some measure preferred light skin to dark.
This means that people of color often share white folks’ preferences when it comes to skin color. I learned about this in courses I took on sociology and literature in high school and college. And I’ve known for a long time that, for a variety of reasons, many people of color have adopted the prejudices of white society as their own.
We often talk a lot about the idea of “reverse racism” on this blog, and most of the time, we’re debunking white folks’ claims that people of color have some measure of power and authority to discriminate against whites in our society. But today I started thinking, hey, maybe there is such a thing as “reverse racism.” It’s still not a situation where racism gets flipped back onto us white people. But maybe it applies to a situation where white racism gets internalized and applied to people of color by people of color.
To me, this is one of the most heartbreaking effects of living in a racialized, white privilege-based society. There is a psychological phenomenon called Stockholm Syndrome where hostages become loyal to their captors even to the point of risking their own lives. This kind of scarring can be seen in abuse victims who, despite endangerment, refuse to leave the side of an abuser who physically or emotionally injures them on a regular basis. Could it be that the scars so long inflicted by racism are manifesting themselves in the prejudices shared by both white people and people of color? I think these tests prove it.
Even more devastating are the results of the doll tests conducted over the last few decades. To see a child looking into the face of a doll that is supposed to be (however inadequately) representative of herself, and declaring that doll “bad” or “ugly” should be an embarrassment to our society. Children are learning these things from us, and they carry them into adulthood in their implicit and explicit associations. And one of those people is typing on the subject this very minute!
Now I’m prone to hyperbole when I get worked up about something, but I am honestly about two seconds from going out into my street in sackcloth and ashes and weeping over what is happening to us as a society. I know we have a bucket of ashes in our basement and a 40% off coupon at Michael’s. They carry sackcloth, right? Maybe burlap will do. Don’t tempt me, people!
How are we going to change this? How am I, as a parent, going to raise my kids differently when I clearly harbor some of these negative associations? Shouldn’t we all be concerned to the point of grief over this system of injustice?
My pal Kate shared with me an episode of This American Life‘s episode 347, “Matchmakers,” Act 3:
Babies Buying Babies.
Elna Baker reads her story about the time she worked at the giant toy store, FAO Schwartz. Her job was to sell these lifelike “newborns” which were displayed in a “nursery” inside the store. When the toys become the hot new present, they begin to fly off the shelves. When the white babies sell out, white parents are faced with a choice: will they go for an Asian, Latino, or African-American baby instead? What happens is so disturbing that Elna has a hard time even telling it. (16 minutes)
You can listen to the entire episode online, for free, at This American Life‘s site. (Give the player some time to buffer, then skip to minute 40 for Act 3.)
If you listen to that story, and I hope you do, I want you to think about how the parents reacted. It’s not enough for us to say, “well I never would have done that.” We might not have. “We” might be like “me,” a person who could look at my implicit association test results and say, “I only exhibit a slight preference for light skin. Aren’t I enlightened?” But that’s not good enough. In fact, it’s downright bad. Ignoring things or suggesting that “because we’ve come a long way, we have already come all the way” is complacent and sinful.
We all need to examine our own hearts as well as the choices we are making that might set us at any point on that “I prefer white people” scale. And then we need to get about the business of reversing those effects of racism in our society, even if we weren’t part of the crew that originally set this mess into motion.