Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Peer Support for African American Male College Achievement: Beyond Internalized Racism and the Burden of "Acting White"

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Peer Support for African American Male College Achievement: Beyond Internalized Racism and the Burden of "Acting White"

Article excerpt

More than any other group of men in our society, Black males are perceived as lacking in intellectual skills. Stereotyped via racism and sexism as being more body than mind, Black males are far more likely to be affirmed for appearing to be dumb ... well-educated Black men have learned to act as if they know nothing in a world where a smart Black man risks punishment. (hooks, 2004, p. 33)

In her book, We Real Cool." Black Men and Masculinity, author and activist bell hooks (2004) discusses the deleterious effects of mass media images, within-race disempowerment, and class-based education on African American male socialization. Accordingly, young African American men are groomed to devalue educational achievement, as due to societal messages that are internalized and reinforced by Black families and peers. She notes that in some Black households the boy who likes to read is suspected to be at risk for developing feminine or "sissy" characteristics--the same perceptions held among Black male peer groups in schools are often juxtaposed with low teacher expectations for Black male school success. Consequently, few receive the support needed to overcome longstanding educational inequities and societal disadvantages. While White teachers, school administrators, and educational structures that maintain White supremacy are largely responsible for African American male underachievement, equally troublesome is the internalization and validation of these messages within Black communities.

Internalized racism (or internalized oppression) occurs when socially stigmatized groups (e.g., Black males) accept and recycle negative messages regarding their aptitude, abilities, and societal place, which results in self-devaluation and the invalidation of others within the group (Essed, 1991; Jones, 2000; Lipsky, 1987; Pheterson, 1990; Pyke & Dang, 2003). That is, the oppressed begin to believe in their own inferiority, both individually and collectively (Baker, 1983). In turn, members of the group consciously or unknowingly endorse the ideologies of the oppressor by communicating counterproductive and racist messages to other group members. Ultimately, within-group socialization toward negative and what is perceived as racially normative codes of conduct often ensues. Lipsky (1987) makes clear that this tendency is not a source of racism but instead an internalized reaction to externally imposed oppression.

Lipsky (1987) also partially attributes failed attempts at Black collectivism and liberation as well as the leadership decline within Black communities to internalized racism. Specifically, she asserts that internalized oppression compels African Americans to criticize, attack, or have unrealistic expectations of those who willingly step forward to assume leadership responsibilities. Thus, Lipsky maintains, the support needed for effective Black leadership is rarely extended, which causes burnout among African American leaders. Patricia Hill Collins (2004) contends that Black male elected officials, business leaders, executives, and academicians are thought to be "intellectual sissies" who align themselves too closely with White culture:

   Staying in school and studying hard moves them closer to images
   of Bill Cosby selling Jello or Michael Jordan talking to Bugs
   Bunny or Tiger Woods refusing to claim Blackness at all. If the
   "academic sidekick" or "intellectual sissy" becomes seen by
   African American boys and young men as the price they have to
   pay for racial integration, it should not be surprising that
   increasing numbers of Black men reject this route to success.
   (p. 177)

As a result, few low-income and working-class African American males aspire to careers in leadership or pursue the educational credentials requisite for assuming such positions; those who do rarely receive support and validation from their same-race peers.

Internalized racism erodes individual enthusiasm, makes certain attitudes and behaviors normative, and undermines collaborative action for racial uplift (Jones, 2000). …

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