Elias Van Sickle
Narratives of Identity
23 October 2014
An individual’s conception of societal norms and beliefs is developed over time through the observation of and interaction with others. In modern times, one might come to understand feminine beauty as thin rather than voluptuous through exposure to the magazines, television and other media outlets that display images of “beautiful” thin models. Simply because a belief is widespread does not make it true or moral; the exclusive portrayal of the thin woman as beautiful is an extremely narrow definition of beauty that is far from true and may be very damaging: it can negatively impact ...view middle of the document...
Malcom X’s exposure to such degrading talk and behavior led him to perceive and begin to unintentionally internalize a sense of racial inferiority. In her memoir, Derricotte quotes a passage from her mother’s book in which she describes how she and her siblings were not allowed to play on the community playground when they were little and resorted to playing in the dangerous local lumberyard instead (Derricotte 115). Although restriction from a playground is a more subtle form of exposure to racism than hearing others comment on the behavior of niggers, as Malcom X experienced, it still impressed upon Derricotte’s mother and her siblings a sense of racial inferiority. By citing her mother’s experience in her writing, Derricotte aims to make other blacks in America aware of the origins of internalized racism so that they may identify its sources and its effects in their own lives.
If initial exposure to racial prejudice were to occur at a time when an individual had an established sense of self and pride for his or her racial identity, he or she would be less likely to develop a racial inferiority complex; however, as demonstrated by Malcom X’s early exposure to degrading language and Derricotte’s mother’s restriction from a playground due to her color, racially prejudicial behavior is often encountered at a young, impressionable age. Consequently, the internalization of racist beliefs becomes deeply rooted in the thoughts of and palpably expresses itself in the actions of many. One expression of internalized racism that both Malcom X and Derricotte become aware of is blacks’ perception of limited possibilities for advancement in life and a resulting lack of ambition. A woman Derricotte meets in her community expresses concern for the dichotomy between her son’s intelligence and his ambition, relating to Derricotte that he had said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I don’t want to ever be anything really big. I just want to get by” (Derricotte 40). This black boy’s experience with prejudicial treatment growing up meant that in sixth grade he had already subscribed to the belief that the proper place in society for blacks is inferior to whites, and as a result he should not even consider attempting to be “anything really big” in life. Derricotte’s attempt to expose and “record the language of self-hate” through her writing can be viewed as an effort to create recognition and lift a veil of “silence” that surrounds the issue, thereby ameliorating its harms (Derricotte 16).
Malcom X shares a similar experience with that of the sixth grade boy. Despite Malcom X’s intelligence and great grades, when he told his high school teacher that he aspired to become a lawyer, the teacher responded, “A lawyer- that’s no realistic goal for a nigger. You need to think about something you can be” (Malcom X 42). Later in life Malcom X realized that he might have become a lawyer had his teacher not triggered the internalization of racial inferiority that reduced...