Cultural Self

Diversity and the understanding of systematic oppression and its impact on oppressed and marginalized populations were constant themes throughout my master’s program. I recall a professor saying, “You cannot appreciate another’s culture until you appreciate your own.” I greatly attribute our son’s and daughter’s success and their capacity to love all people to their love and appreciation of their own culture. Because they know and love who they are, they do not denigrate or overvalue people of other races/ethnicities.

My favorite theorist is D.W. Winnicott. I especially like his concepts as explanatory models for optimal parenting. I believe his true-self, false-self concepts appropriately elucidate the psychological toll of racism on African Americans. Basically, the true self is who we are if allowed to grow and thrive in environments that wholly affirm who we are. The result would be a loving, creative individual who lives to his fullest capability. The entrenched false self is the result of what Winnicott calls “impingements”, occurrences that infringe upon your right to be wholly affirmed. Racism is a major impingement. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that African Americans will not be wholly affirmed in this society.

The PARENTS’ JOB is to make sure that the child is wholly affirmed – emotionally, psychologically, physically, intellectually, and culturally.

Let’s examine academic underachievement and colorism in the African American community as explained through the true self/false self concepts. These two phenomena are prevalent in the African American community and whether you believe it or not they can delay or worse, prohibit a child’s ability to experience their full capabilities. Through messages that have been passed down for generations and emanate from slavery, we have adopted ways of thinking that are detrimental to the true self.

Within the African American community exists an idealization of standards that are highly regarded by the dominant culture (the same is true for other communities of color because of imperialism, colonialism).  One that is most damaging is the standard of physical beauty. This idealization places a premium on features that resemble European heritage. It is not uncommon for black mothers and family members to express disdain for a child’s darker hue. The autobiographical literary work, Don’t Play in the Sun, by Marita Golden documents the psychological pain and resulting damage to a child’s self-esteem that comes from a lack of acceptance and affirmation of the child’s physical attributes.  Even worse, the disdain for anything other than European features can result in self-loathing.

“Knowledge about and pride in one’s culture can be a source of psychological resilience, group identification and support. Conversely, the need to deny, distance or experience shame about one’s ethnic or racial identity is often associated with less than optimal psychological outcomes, and can negatively affect identity and self-esteem.” (Greene, 1997, p. 305)

The message from the dominant culture that is the most deleterious to the African American is the belief in the stereotype of intellectual inferiority. This message permeates American culture and has been internalized in the African American community, especially among males.  “Stereotypes portraying young Black males as delinquent have dominated Western folklore and educational literature to the point of being a valid assumption” (Hall, 2009, p. 535).  Similarly, portrayals of white people as the ideal – intelligent, kind, benevolent – are ubiquitous and have been adopted for generations as a valid assumption.

The belief in intellectual inferiority (i.e., belief that whites are innately smarter than blacks) and adherence to colorism are the result of internalized racism. “Internalized racism may result when, unconsciously and without censor, both the negative stereotypes about African Americans and the idealized stereotypes of White Americans are internalized and negatively affect the sense of self.” (Green, 1997, p. 305).

By perpetuating these heinous remnants of slavery, we keep our minds enslaved and our communities disjointed.

If you or anyone in your child’s immediate circle of influence are making remarks or comments that suggest natural physical features (skin color (of any hue), hair texture, nose, lips, butt, etc.) are somehow inadequate, please stop. And do not allow your son or daughter to believe that he/she is not intelligent or cannot achieve at the highest academic level. Educate your child about their cultural background/history. If you are not knowledgeable, make this an opportunity for you and your child to learn together.

I’ll say it again, The PARENTS’ JOB is to make sure that the child is wholly affirmed – emotionally, psychologically, physically, intellectually, and culturally.

Next month we begin to delve into Education.

A short list of my favorite books about African American culture:

The Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

All novels by: Toni Morrison, California J. Cooper, and Marita Golden


Greene, B. (1997). Psychotherapy with African American women: Integrating feminist and psychodynamic models. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 67(3), 299-322.

Hall, R. E. (2009). Cool pose, black manhood, and juvenile delinquency. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 19, 531-539.

2 thoughts on “Cultural Self

  1. The perversity of this phenomenon is also evident when a child is accused of “acting white.” I look forward to your thoughts on education. That endeavor holds promise, as your family has shown. Peter Date: Sat, 1 Aug 2015 03:07:55 +0000 To:


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