According to Dr Beverly Tatum growing up black in America goes something like this for most:
- ages 1 to 5: you know you look different from whites, but you do not think of yourself as “black”. All the racist messages about blacks that American society provides come pouring into your defenceless little brain, completely unquestioned. This lays the groundwork for internalized racism: racism against yourself! You will be fighting against this stuff the rest of your life – either that or give into it.
- pre-encounter: you know you are black, at least from about age five if not earlier, but it does not matter that much. It is kind of like being Irish or a NASCAR fan. This is what many white people think being black is like. And what it would be like in a truly post-racial America.
- encounter: you experience racism in an unmistakable way. Repeatedly. Anger and confusion follow. Now being black becomes one of the most important things about you.
- immersion/emersion: you put yourself into a black world as much as possible. You see your black friends in a new light. You learn everything you can about being black. You read, you take courses maybe. You learn about the history of blacks in America, in Africa, unlearning the lies.
- internalization: what you learned in the last stage becomes a part of your identity, your sense of who you are. It helps to undo the internalized racism you unknowingly learned. It makes you feel more secure in yourself. You become less angry, more hopeful.
- internalization-commitment: Now you can move beyond yourself, make good friends from other races and want to help other blacks in some way.
After stage 6 you might fall into a period of racelessness where race is not all that important – you are back at stage 2 again! But sooner or later there will be another bad encounter with racism – maybe at work or through your children – and you will move through the stages all over again, but this time at a higher level of understanding. It is like a spiral staircase, going round and round, up and up.
It is common for the first encounter stage to take place in middle school or high school and the first immersion stage at university (go to one with a good African American studies programme!). And then both again in mid-life.
You can get stuck at any stage. Some do not even make it through all six stages the first time.
You should hang onto the friends you made and the books you bought in one pass through the stages because you will need them again for the next pass!
There are tons of great books about growing up black – which will interest you when you are in the immersion stage. A few are listed below. The best of them is probably “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, a book everyone in America should read.
Tomorrow: Growing up white!
- Reading Beverly Tatum
- internalized racism
- Books about growing up black:
- Caille Millner:The Golden Road
- Ntozake Shange: Betsey Brown
- Lorene Cary: Black Ice
- James McBride: The Color of Water
- Danzy Senna: Caucasia – about growing up biracial, which is kind of the same and kind of not
- The girlhood of Angela Davis – from her autobiography
- Barack Obama: The Dreams from My Father