Elevating The Dream

Confronting the African American Psyche


Fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, African Americans, as a people, are still grappling with black inferiority. Not only do African Americans today still live in the shadow of slavery economically and politically but also psychologically. The belief that blacks are racially inferior persists, even if we’re tempted to point to President Obama and believe we’ve risen above racism in America.

Many African Americans struggle with our identities because a story of inferiority is re-told to each successive generation through internalized racism. A white-dominated society continually reinforces this message in the media, entertainment, textbooks, etc. In the absence of talking about internalized black inferiority, those stories have become central messages about whom African Americans are and what we can aspire to. Those centuries of messages have become expectations that are formative to our children’s dreams.

When something is not talked about, it becomes more toxic. We aren’t talking about our psyches, and most particularly about the myth of black inferiority, the ongoing trauma of slavery. Consequently, African Americans have internalized the myth of black inferiority, which I call the Black Shadow. The Black Shadow encapsulates the dysfunctional racist beliefs promulgated in America since times of slavery and internalized in African Americans that blacks are less worthy than whites.

The Black Shadow resides mostly in the deep recesses of the unconscious mind. I tell my clients it’s a lot like a literal shadow: you don’t consciously realize it’s there until you shine the light of understanding on it. Then you realize it’s constantly with you, whispering in your ear, “You will never be as good as whites; you will never be pretty enough with kinky hair and dark skin. You are less intelligent than white people, so don’t even try to get ahead.” Confronting the African American psyche, black boys and black girls might judge themselves by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

For justice to truly ring we have to challenge the 400-year-old myth of black inferiority and finally pry its claws out of the African American psyche. Then we might see the blossoming of hopefulness and the realization of dreams for more of our black sons and daughters. Remembering the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,” let’s shine a light on the Black Shadow and let freedom ring from within every African American.

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