Identifying and Managing the Internalized Oppression
with Dr. Lydiana Garcia
I’ve always been interested in deepening my understanding about racism, and internalized oppression, and all those well-validated anger towards white. As a Puerto Rican, the makeup of who I am is a mix of Spaniard, of Black, and of indigenous or Taíno. I am kind of both because aside from having Black and indigenous ancestors, I have those that were the colonizers themselves so it’s also more about learning how I can make sense of it.
I just finished a five-week kind of healing on internalized racism, internalized oppression, ancestral lineage and trauma with an amazing teacher, Milagros Phillips. You can check her current offerings over at www.milagrosphillips.com, I am not an affiliate but just really love her work. I’ll be sharing a little bit of the things I learned from her and about ways to work with that internalized oppression to hopefully bring a little bit back on that internal empowerment that we all have access to.
What is internalized oppression and how it started
Let me give a little bit of a background. In general, it started with the caste system which is how the Europeans, specifically Spaniards, worked about being able to figure out heritage and hierarchy in their societies. It was also based on colors that's why there's that term colorism and the whiter you were, then the more that you have access to. This is very relevant to people in many different countries including the Caribbean and Puerto Rico and many other cultures, not only the Latinx culture but also in other areas of the world.
One important aspect in the caste system was about the Doctrine of Discovery. It’s a document that was written in a way that Spaniards were able to take over any land if the people that lived there were not Christians because they were considered less of. They were able to take over the land of all the indigenous and do whatever they can with the people living there, including genocides.
All those kind of ideas of who was considered better off then was written in laws and that's how it got institutionalized. There were systems created to make sure that these laws were being in place, and that’s what we call the systemic oppression and institutional oppression, in case you were wondering. There’s also the relational which is how you relate and treat others, in terms of not being a racist and the whole microaggressions. And then there’s the internalized oppression wherein you internalize supremacy and oppression, mostly either one of them. There’s definitely different gradients in terms of supremacy or privilege that’s why in a way, you also internalize a little bit of that supremacy even if you’re not Caucasian or white.
Internalized oppression is a little bit more on the sense of our own beliefs and our own behaviors, and way of being that continue to perpetuate this belief that we're less of. This could be seen in many different ways. For example, how strict you are with yourself when you make a mistake, that inner chatter of you being very harsh and very oppressive and very trying to keep in a certain way. It could go all the way from that to things like not feeling safe in the world.
There's also that internalized way of not tapping necessarily into our liberation. I'm just touching on the surface on this as it's something that I don't consider myself an expert. I'm providing you the information as I'm making sense of it for myself, in hopes that it could be helpful that you can start exploring it and then if you're interested, then you also be guided to who will be that teacher for you and that person to help you go deeper into it.
How to Manage Internalized Oppression
Awareness is one of the most important first steps to learning and dealing with internalized oppression - becoming aware of your habits, your thoughts, and your way of being.
One of my most recent examples is my son being in distance learning. I completely understand he's only five, that it's all developmental, and that children learn best when they're calm, when they're motivated, when they feel safe. And at the same time as a mom juggling a baby and a child while also working and managing all the things in the household, my tolerance has been very slim. I've noticed the fear whenever I see my child not listening to the teacher or getting distracted with toys and not following through what the teacher is saying. As I've explored, I realized how part of him being behind and not learning to read and write with the pressure of society, is part of my fear that then he'll be kind of marginalized because he is a person of color.
Another thing I have noticed in myself is that sense of not feeling safe, and in the world, and how I feel like I have to keep on going and doing because otherwise, the system is not there to protect me. Though there is fact about that, I’d continue to perpetuate those beliefs and thought if I’d continue to stay on the go go go mode. This would also hinder me from tapping into my power to start healing that, and change some things from the inside out.
Once you become aware, here are some recommendations on what you can do to deal with internalized oppression and to be able to find that empowerment inside of you.
1. Attending to our inner parts and shadows. It’s building a relationship with this inner part of ourselves, with our shadows, with our internalized oppression, with not only with ourselves but our racist beliefs towards others. A lot of it could be our colorism especially if you're more in a culture where you were oppressed based on color, and other racist comments towards others. It is important that you become aware of it and build a relationship of trust by listening - not by judging but by just being there. Then exploring the underlying and unmet needs and emotions that these parts have. It could be fear, the emotion for survival, or the unmet needs of feeling safe, of feeling that we were part of.
Another cool exercise is thinking about the things that you hate the most in others and ask yourself when you've been those ways. Even though we might not like this person because of this quality, a lot of times we're projecting that part of us that we reject, that's what we call a shadow. What we hate in others, we also have a piece of that in ourselves. Let that sink in, and then you can kind of explore and journal about it.
There's also the right and left hand writing exercise where you ask questions with your dominant hand and answer them with the non-dominant hand. It might look like a children's writing but it could be really helpful because it could tap more into the unconscious part that you're not that dominant.
2. Validating and fulfilling the needs that the oppressed part feel were not met. You can check this list of Basic Human Needs and Feelings from the Echo Parenting Center to help you guide this work. The oppresses part of us figured out a way to survive with whatever they could, whether that was substances or being hard on yourself, and they were trying to fulfill a basic need.
Maybe it’s a need of love or you’re not feeling appreciated in this world so, you did this x,y and z behavior as a way to satisfy this need. You can validate this need with telling yourself simple statement as “I see that this need was not met, I can see how you might have felt fear and not safe..” After that, how can you find ways to fulfill this need/s. If it’s about safety, you can do some grounding and somatic ways to promote safety within yourself and where you live. If it's about feeling loved, how can you work on showing a little more love for yourself, for example, taking care of your needs, sleeping, eating, respecting when your body feels tired, giving what your body needs, nurturing it, whatever love might mean for you.
Try to find ways to fulfill these needs because it's essential, as we're working with this internalized oppressor, to start and help them liberate and not continue to be stuck on it because that's the only way that they learn to survive again.
3. Start validating and giving attention to that empowered part, to your internal voice. This could be those beliefs about your potential as a human being, as a soul in this world. You do exercises like imagining what others that completely love you would do for you, would say for you, would be there for you. You can also start giving attention by reading books, listening to podcasts, or getting into support groups. It might start from the outside as you start going in the inside.
It is super important to continue the work to fight systemic and institutionalized racism, to work on our relational and to decrease our microaggressions, as much as possible, and to become aware of them to be able to work on repair. The more that we become awake, aware, and empowered in our own scheme, then we start changing these patterns as well.
Some of the people and resources that has been key in my journey are:
- the amazing, Milagros Phillips @phillipsmilagros, Speaker, author, coach, creator of Race Demistified
- the book Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
- Basic Human Needs and Feelings PDF, by the Echo Parenting Center (link on the episode's shownotes)
If you have any questions at all, please feel free to reach out to via social media or send an email to [email protected].
For those of you that have no idea, we're creating this community via The Mighty Network App, you’ll find the link to join below. It’s a go-to place where I'll be starting very soon to be more involved and offering free community events so people can easily reach out and ask questions.