Can a person be prejudiced against their own racial group?

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Living in the  great multi-cultural society, which is today’s America is an opportunity that I have grown to love and cherish. I love the fact that when I step out on the streets I could be interacting with individuals whose gene pool could easily span the whole global realm known to man. This in itself is a wonderful feeling that makes my American identity very real to me whilst at the same time cherishing my Ghanaian roots. Whilst most of my experiences in America have been mostly positive in the last year I periodically get reminders that this great experiment of a melting pot of humanity may not always feel as great as I usually feel it is.

We all periodically hear of experiences by friends and colleagues that are ascribed to racially prejudiced modes of thinking and beliefs from our non-black counterparts. Whilst some of these can be really egregious and should never have happened between humans outside of a war zone most of these incidents fall into a grey zone. Some of these cases could just be just that some white Americans are totally clueless about what it is like to be black in America.

Trump supporters in Jacksonville, FL holding  high the confederate flag in at a Trump Rally in 2016

When it comes to racial prejudice though there is one aspect that we sometimes fail to talk about.

I few years ago I was helping my girlfriend at that time move and as such was wearing dirty jeans and a t-shirt. In fact I was very relaxed and in the process of transferring things from her car into mine to make room for other stuff. I was so pre-occupied with what I was doing that I was totally unaware of the older gentleman until I heard the words “What are you doing?”  On reflex, I answered “Oh just moving some stuff into my car”. I ignored him and continued what I was doing. I heard him say “But I have not seen you here before?” I realized at that moment that this black gentleman was questioning my right to be on the parking lot of his apartment building. I was not going to give him an explanation for that so I literally told him off.

In situations such as this I usually ask myself this question “Would this gentleman have behaved in a similar manner if he had seen a white person do exactly what I was doing? The answer to that question unfortunately is an unequivocal no. The next question would be “but he is also black, why was he behaving like that? The easy answer to this question is; “He is a black racist mother-f**ker”.

The truth though is a lot more nuanced than that. This gentleman’s behavior which is unfortunately very common is the result of several centuries of conditioning that we have all imbibed. This conditioning makes us more prone to not give the Black American more often the black male the benefit of the doubt in most instances. This has created a pervasive racialized mode of thinking and associations that continues to drive implicit racial bias against minorities. This bias keeps minorities and to a greater extent African Americans at a disadvantage even in the absence of overt racism.

Today most of us irrespective of the color of our skins or our race still continue to harbor these biased modes of thought and beliefs. It is easy to deal with racially motivated acts of violence, but how do we address this centuries old conditioning that gets slowly handed down one generation to the next.  A pervasive social conditioning whose unfortunate victims are themselves sometimes affected by this and perpetrate acts that are biased against those of their own group?

The only answer I can give is “I don’t know” but I have learned enough to always ask myself this question as often as I can, “would I behave in a similar manner if I was dealing with a white person?” May be we should all ask ourself this question more often so we can address these unconscious racial biases.

By Dr. Leonard Sowah, an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland

Photo Credit

Trump supporter photo -Associated Press / Matt Rourke


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan