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The Effects of Internalized Racism in Primary School Systems in the United States:
Unveiling the Dialogue of Race
Madison Darrah
Simmons College

THE EFFECTS OF INTERNALIZED RACISM

Abstract
Discussions surrounding race are nearly non-existent in the current curriculum in public
primary school education in the United States. This paper focuses on the detriment that is
to black identity in the United States through cycles of socializations in the classroom.
This paper utilizes five main published journal articles in efforts to explore racial microaggressions that students of color face in their primary education, that also contribute to
the lack of black identity development in the United States. Rita Kohli and Daniel G.
Solrzano (2012) wrote a collection of articles further explaining the definition of racial
micro-aggressions. Kohli and Solrzano (2012) mention how pronouncing a students
ethnic name incorrectly or choosing to call a student by a completely different name is
harmful to the identity development of a student of color. Similarly, author Beverly
Tatum (1997) explains through physiologist William Crosss that the socialization of
students of color is a two step process, the first step is the pre-encounter and the second is
the encounter. These two authors, Kohli and Tatum help with the analysis of the
detriment to a student of colors identity in the context of this essay. While author
Stephan Brookfield (2014) provides analysis on the affect of an internally racist teacher
in the classroom. What can be concluded from Brookfields (2014) argument is while
racism is a learned concept, most would agree it exists. Consequently while teachers are
dedicated to disassemble racism, they still hold internalized racist attitudes. While also
providing analysis on other journals, this collection researches and demonstrates a full
understanding of internalized racism and serving a homogeneous classroom is not an
affective practice in the classroom. The essay will suggest change in the classroom in the
form of dialogue surrounding race.

THE EFFECTS OF INTERNALIZED RACISM

Keywords: racial micro-aggression, internalized racism, homogeneous, identity


The Effects of Internalized Racism in Primary School Systems in the United States:
Unveiling the Dialogue of Race

THE EFFECTS OF INTERNALIZED RACISM

The Effects of Internalized Racism in Primary School Systems in the United States:
Unveiling the Dialogue of Race
Stripping away color, strips away individual identity; the outcome is less than ideal,
yet is practiced throughout primary school classrooms in the United States. Why is it that
school teachers use their own eyeballs to deceive themselves when it comes to the race of
their students? Deep inside their psychiatric make-up is internalized racism that is
displayed in each classroom through subtle racial micro aggressions. It is the current idea
that silencing discussions around race is appropriate for students learning at a primary
school level. In other terms, it is a value of the primary school systems throughout the
nation to be colorblind. Teachers are encouraged to ignore race, and see students
homogeneously. What this does, however, is strip the students identity and further
institutionalizes racism in the form of colorblind racism. Internalized racism is a
theoretical concept that is socially constructed on the basis of an individual; not
displaying racist attitudes consciously, but instead by displaying racist micro aggressions.
Colorblind racism is an ineffective practice in K-12 classrooms. Instead of alleviating the
ideas behind racism, the conversation of race should begin. However, in order to do so it
is important to recognize that frames of references influence innate discriminatory
behavior. Therefore internalized racism is a cycle between teachers expressing their own
internally racist attitudes and teaching future teachers the same behaviors. This then
makes primary schools in the United States susceptible to internalizing racism. The
problem is, internalized racism negates the popular idea that individuals (or teachers) do
not consider themselves racist or hold any biases on certain groups of peoples. As a
result, educators resist changing their behaviors. Teachers in primary school classrooms

THE EFFECTS OF INTERNALIZED RACISM

throughout suburban areas in the United States display racially micro-aggressive behavior
that is detrimental to the development of a students personal identity, and therefore
instead of ignoring race in classrooms K-12, teachers should encourage the dialogue of
race.
Groups of people who have a stake in internalized racism in the classroom are those
who are of color and are constantly ignored in classrooms due to their color of skin in the
form of racial micro aggressions. A good example of this concept is teachers consistently
pronouncing students names wrong. As author Rita Kohli and Daniel G. Solrzano
might suggest, while teachers will mispronounce many of students names, it is subtle yet
detrimental to the students ability to appreciate and learn their ethnic background (Kohli
& Solrzano, 2012). Moreover, teachers consistently hinder the ability for their students
to develop a personal identity by ignoring their ethnic stake in society. But this isnt
easily confronted. Teachers have an inability to see their teaching faults and one of their
biggest faults is ignoring race in each classroom. When the topic of race or ethnicity is
brought up by a student, or the opposite, never mentioned, there are hidden injuries to the
students and the teacher that then force the topic of race to be a forbidden topic. Author
Karen D. Pyke from the University of California-Riverside best describes this as,
Despite sociology's longstanding interest in inequality, the internalization of racial
oppression among the racially subordinated and its contribution to the reproduction of
racial inequality has been largely ignored, reflecting a taboo on the subject (Pyke, 2010,
p. 551). In order for the taboo to be removed from the topic, it is crucial for teachers to
begin talking with their students about race and removes the racial micro-aggressive
behavior in the form of neglecting to learn a students name.

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Names are important and crucial to the identity development of a child (Kohli &
Solrzano, 2012). Children are assigned a name at birth, given to them in most cases by
their parents. In the United States, from birth to age two that child is called by their birth
name or a nickname also given to them by their primary care givers. The name of a child
typically holds cultural significance to a family and therefore is a part of their identity
development. Furthermore, children tend to form their personal being with their name as
a homing beacon for thoughts. What happens when the child is going to kindergarten and
is faced, potentially for the first time, a mispronunciation and in some cases, a change of
name: Students then feel that they are not as important and are inferior to the teacher and
therefore this is the first step of misshaping a students identity. The mispronunciation of
the names of racial minority youth is disrespectful to the student and their family and the
educator who mispronounces the name is to blame for the racial micro-aggression that
can be the result of a culture divide (Kohli & Solrzano, 2012).
In efforts to better understand the concept of the dialogue of race, it is important to
understand what is meant by it. The dialogue of race, in the context of this paper is the
belief that K-12 classrooms throughout the United States should begin educating students
on the basis of race, diversity and inclusion. This can be done through conversations in
order to discontinue the oppression of students of color and therefore break the
institutionalized racism. Author Beverly Tatum best describes the benefits of beginning
the conversation of race in her book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The
Cafeteria? Tatum explains that personal identity is shaped by many defining factors
(Tatum, 1997). These factors should be individualistic but rather they are socially
constructed by society. In order to better understand this, Tatum refers to psychologist

THE EFFECTS OF INTERNALIZED RACISM

William Cross, author of Shades of Black: Diversity in African American Identity, model
(Tatum, 1997). Cross-identifies his model as the psychology of nigrescence or in other
words, the psychology of becoming Black (Tatum, 1997, p. 55). Cross-examines the
formation of black identity. The first stage is called the pre-encounter and the second
stage is the encounter (Tatum, 1997). Both stages, however, involve when a black
individual is forced to believe white is the superior race through different stereotypes
created by society by simply being immersed in the American culture (Tatum, 1997).
Tatum further explains Crosss findings and says that the socialization of black children
is much different in the United States then it is for white children. Regardless of the color
of skin, children look up to their superiors. The difference of socialization is white
children look up to their white superiors and so do black children. These children look
up to their role-models and begin to mimic the actions of their superiors of the dominant
race of the culture (Tatum, 1997).
Tatum and Cross are suggesting the identity development of a child is crucial in the
first ten years of life. The identity development process, however, is far more
complicated then what it seems, or how its taught in classrooms throughout the United
States. The 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey completed by the National Center
for Education Statistics found the percentage of white identifying teachers over nonwhite identifying teachers in the public school systems of the United States. Their results
were 81.9% of the 3,385,200 number of total public primary school teachers, identified as
white (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011-2012). The cross-examination
between the thought processes of both Tatum and Cross and the statistics of white
educators in public education demonstrates the damage done to the identity development

THE EFFECTS OF INTERNALIZED RACISM

of students of color who have been socialized in a society where whites dominate the
primary public education field. This accounts for the internalized racist behaviors of
white educators portraying their own frame of reference and influencing their students
identity development.
An individual sees themselves in the context of their cultural backgrounds and
confuse it with what they see in the people surrounding them. Therefore their
socialization affects their ability to rid any internalized racism. Individuals make
judgments based on historical concepts that socially construct the way race is looked at
and talked about. While racism is a learned concept that is socially constructed, most
would agree it exists and in turn because most see racism as a train of thought putting
oneself superior to an inferior race (Brookfield, 2014). It is then sensible to say that
teachers throughout the United States in primary schools, while dedicated to disassemble
racism, still hold internalized racist attitudes (Brookfield, 2014).

This is especially

evident between the interactions of teachers and students who are both white. Educators
wrongfully deem it important to hone in on white supremacy in an advert way, by noting
how important and effective it is to be an ally to people of color. This is an ineffective
practice in the classroom because it alienates students of color and puts them inferior to
whites. In contrast from colorblind racism, teachers find it appropriate to show they are
cognizant of race in ways that put whites superior. This approach is inappropriate and
rather an open conversation-surrounding race would be more effective for an inclusive
environment.
White normalcy in the United States is part of the reason why K-12 educators turn a
blind-eye to color in the classroom and therefore perceive a homogenous group of

THE EFFECTS OF INTERNALIZED RACISM

students. The concept of color-blind teaching is a racist practice and therefore is not the
answer to racism. The concept of colorblind racism, in fact, is particularly toxic to
classrooms in the United States yet is still prevalent. Colorblind racism is the result of
institutional and individual racism. Authors Gloria Boutte, Julia Lopez-Robertson and
Elizabeth Powers-Costella best define institutional verse individual racism in their essay,
Moving Beyond Colorblindness in Early Childhood Classrooms. The authors write that
institutional racism is the combination of many social constructions that represent bias
behaviors to a certain group or groups of people (Boutte, Lopez-Robertson & PowersCostella, 2011). While individual racism is the result of an individual displaying attitudes
and actions that are particularly discriminatory to people of color (Boutte, LopezRobertson & Powers-Costella, 2011). In order for the institution (in the case of this essay
the institution is primary public schools in the United States) to unravel their prejudicial
behaviors, individuals (educators) must unravel their prejudices that are damaging and
hurtful to people of color. This process can begin through discussions surrounding race in
the classroom. If students were educated on race and ethnicity through primary education,
they would be better prepared to be a holistic citizen and could then go on to teach the
aspects of diversity and inclusion to the following generation.
Students who are of color and lower socio-economic status are especially at risk for
neglect in the primary school classrooms throughout the United States. Due do sociohistorical frameworks of students of color being oppressed by society, and families of
color who have been consistently denied housing in suburban areas, racism is further
internalized by citizens of the United States. The intersectionality of race and class effects
the way educators see students and therefore place students who are white and wealthy in

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a category above students of color and poor. Furthermore students who are white and
wealthy are handed more opportunities. This is a form of racial micro-aggression because
it is subtle pushes from educators that give white students a hand over students of color
that can come in the form of educators generalizing a student of color to a bigger
community of color. The effect a racial micro-aggression has on the individual being
adversely targeted is questioning if they should actually feel targeted and are then hurt by
the aggression. The effect of a racial macro-aggression to a group of individuals is that
group of individuals fear and is hurt by the aggression. This back and forth of students of
color constantly trying to hold themselves at a white-persons standards (white
normalcy in the United States) dissimulates their being.
Denying the right to bilingual students to speak any language other than English
during times outside the classroom, like breaks or lunchtime, is putting the English
language above any other language and is a racial macro aggression. This therefore gives
a cross-section between white superiority and English superiority. This is particularly
detrimental to students who speak a different language other than English in their home
and are non-white because they are deemed inferior by primary public schools in the
United States. This is also a form of a racial macro-aggression because non-white
students who speak a different language other than English are forced to believe that
English is the right, or in other words the correct language. This further constructs the
argument that internalized racism exists because educators are instilling their personal
beliefs in a discriminatory way onto their students. In addition, students who learned
English as their first language have an advantage over students where English is not their
first learned language. This is seen, in particular, on Advanced Placement tests in High

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School. Students who speak English as their first language are only faced with the
challenge of the test and not the challenge of a language barrier. Students whose first
language are not English, and are currently learning the language, have to struggle not
only with the language of the Advanced Placement tests but also the challenges that the
test brings on as well. This example is particularly relevant when talking about primary
school administrators rather than the educators on the front lines in the classroom.
However, this is relevant because it demonstrates the hierarchy of internalized racism in
the school systems of the United States.
The cycle of internalized racism in regards to teachers teaching through their frame
of reference is subtle yet fatal to a students ability to grow individually. Stephan
Brookfield (2014) wrote that, Even the most experienced white anti-racist educators are
likely to have elements of the learned ideology of racism living within them, (p. 89).
Brookfield is further explaining the concept of internalized racism. Most teachers would
like to believe that their attitudes in their classrooms are not racially motivated when in
fact they are. These attitudes are accounted for by racial micro-aggressions that can be
displayed by pronouncing ethnic names of students wrong, generalizing one student to a
population of peoples, or even just calling a student by a name that is completely
different from their own. Kohli and Solrzano (2014) mentioned in their article in the
journal of Race Ethnicity and Education, that, in 2009, a seventh grade girl in California
was overheard telling her friends her name was Natlia but when introducing herself to
her teacher she said her name was Natalie. Later, she was asked why she told the teacher
that her name was Natalie. Her response was, it was easier to tell the teacher that her
name was Natalie because teachers always say my name wrong (Natlia as quoted in

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Kohli & Solzano, 2014, p. 442-443). This is a clear depiction of a teachers inability to
adapt to their students in a respectful way by simply learning to pronounce a students
name correctly.
Contrary to popular United States belief that ignoring race in K-12 classrooms is a
way to alleviate racism, it in fact perpetuates racism and therefore instead of colorblind
racism, suburban classrooms should practice the dialogue of race. By starting the
conversation of race in primary school classrooms, students will be faced with the issues
surrounding diversity and inclusion up front. This will then allow students to further their
personal cultural identity. Lets take Simmons College, for example. While Simmons
College is a secondary educational institution in the United States in an urban area, it is
an example used purposefully to demonstrate positive change in overall education in the
United States. Having said that, Simmons College is a progressive women centered
college. In addition, Simmons prides itself on diversity and inclusion. Simmons has
implemented several practices that will better the Simmons Community in regards to
their teaching practices and the standards set for their students. During freshman
orientation at Simmons College, there is a program called FACES where students are
forced to face the taboo topics of race, class and gender identity. For most, FACES was
eye opening because most had never been confronted with such explicit language
surrounding race, class and gender. What allowed students to confront their
uncomfortable feelings were the knowledgeable trained instructors who facilitated the
program. Moreover, freshman at Simmons College in the year school year of 2014-2015
were required to take three first-year seminars, one of which was intended to make issues
of identity development transparent. Simmons College still has a long way to go before

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achieving complete dialogue of race where students are 100% comfortable with using the
language that surrounds race. However, beginning the dialogue is the start and gives an
example to primary educators throughout the nation.
It is crucial in primary education for students and teachers alike to begin talking
about race, racial identity, diversity and inclusion in order to strip away the
internalization of racism. Much like Beverly Tatum would suggest, the development of
racial identity is contingent on classrooms in the United States moving towards
progressive action of talking about race. In order to get past the stigma of talking about
race it is important to keep in mind that fear is paralyzing but it doesnt have to be
(Tatum, 1997). Fear is a concept of emotion that controls the brain and the actions an
individual will take. This fear is the stem of social rejection or social targeting (Tatum,
1997). Fear is easily taken away when talking about a subject once that particular subject
becomes sexy, or trendy. Race conversations should begin and the silence should stop
(Tatum, 1997). These conversations need to be in depth, meaningful conversations that
give a student a chance to grow and learn without being targeted by internally racist
teachers and educators.
The purpose of primary public education in the United States is to educate the
future. Teachers seek to educate the next generation in hopes that that generation will be
better than the last. The problem is, the institutions in place hold prejudices against
people of color. These prejudices are injurious to students of color in the classroom. This
is so because the identity development process is accounted for by many different
interactions. In a society where racism is institutionalized and a superior race has been
created throughout history, the identity development for students of color is inhibited. As

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Beverly Tatum and William Cross suggest, students of color are consistently placed
behind on the identity development scale because they are influenced by the practices and
ideals of white peoples. Teachers and educators teach colorblindness and would therefore
prefer a homogenous classroom. However, colorblind racism further proves Crosss point
of the prevention of black identity development in the United States. Through racial
micro aggressions in the classroom, teachers attitudes are taught to the students. In order
to break the internalized racism in the primary public school classrooms throughout the
United States, Teachers should begin the dialogue of race and embrace cultural
differences and divides. Tatum advises that starting the conversation of race and identity
of race is frightening to some and that response is natural. However, facing fears
amplifies the effect of the conversation.

It begins by eliminating racial micro

aggressions. A good example of this is for teachers to learn and respect their students
names. These subtle changes will allow for a bigger institutional change. The real change
will come from explicit, meaningful conversations on race that will be awkward at times
but the more comfortable educators get with the dialogue the more they will be
understanding of themselves and their students.

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References
Boutte, G.S., Lopez-Robertson, J., Powers-Costello, Elizabeth. (2011). Moving beyond
colorblindness in early childhood classrooms. Early Childhood Education, 39,
335-342. doi:10.1007/s10643-011-0457-x
Brookfield, S. (2014). Teaching our own racism. American Association for Adult &
Continuing Education, 25(3), 89-95. doi:10.1177/104515951453418
Kohli, R., Solrzano, D.G. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names!: Racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), 441-462.
doi: 10.1080/13613324.2012.674026
Matias, C.E. (2013). Tears worth telling: Urban teaching and the possibilities of racial
justice. Multicultural Perspectives, 15(4), 187-193. doi:
10.1080/15210960.2013.844603
National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Schools and Staffing Survey
(SASS) Table 1,"

201112. Retrieved from:

https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t1s_001.asp
Pyke, K.D. (2010). What is internalized racial oppression and why dont we study it?
Acknowledging racisms hidden injuries. Sociological Perspectives, 53(4), 551572.
doi:10.1525/sop.2010.53.4.551
Tatum, Beverly. (1997). Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
New York, NY: Basicbooks.