By Tommy Castronova, Jake Clark, Sammy Comstock, Nayy Diarra, Rebecca Perry, Dineen Vogler, and Quentin Wall.
William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen’s From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century makes a strong case for reparations paid to Black Americans for their continued mistreatment at the hands of the United States government. The authors describe the foundations of the American institution of slavery and its history of reducing human beings for economic exploitation. The argument made by the authors is that restitution is owed to those who survive the systematic reduction of human rights and the consequential damage of internalization for the benefit of other human beings. Throughout the course texts, Clay’s Ark, Zulus, Zone One and Darity and Mullen’s book, internalization affects individuals’ will to live and self worth.
In Clay’s Ark, by Octavia Butler, characters infected by the virus must fight against internalization at all cost. If they begin to internalize the idea that they are the infection, that the disease is more in control of them than they are, they either lose all their humanity, as Eli is terrified of, or they lose all will to live, like with Zeriam. We see this when Zeriam asks Eli “How much of you is left?”(Butler 150). Zeriam, unconvinced by Eli’s response, chooses to end his life rather than become the virus. Butler even spells this out for us in the last lines before Zeriam’s death, writing: “ He wrote a letter to his unborn child… He talked about the impossibility of spending his life as the carrier of a deadly disease. He talked about his fear of losing himself, becoming someone or something else. Finally, he put the letters aside and cheated the microbe of the last few days it needed to tighten its hold on him. He took one of Meda’s sharp butcher knives and cut his throat.” (Butler 151). Zeriam, newly infected, has already internalized the idea that anyone infected by this disease is nothing more than a slave to it, acting on whatever impulses it gives to its hosts. Now that this would soon apply to him, he chooses to end his life rather than live out that narrative. We see Eli fighting this internalization throughout the novel, as he constantly talks about trying to preserve as much of the infected’s humanity as possible, despite the disease. We see Lupe mention it when talking to Rane: “Eli says we’re preserving humanity. I agree with him. We are. Our own humanity and everyone else’s because we let people alone”(Butler 91).
In the book Zulus, Percival Everett discusses how the protagonist, Alice Achitophel, is constantly seen as “the fat woman” (22). Everyone around her degraded her in a way that made her feel less than who she actually was. One particular woman, Body-woman Rima, called out Alice Achitophel on her body. She said to Achitophel, “you’re a stupid woman and probably a slut… and let you know how much of a thing you are” (Everett 106). Instead of calling her by her name she is referred to as “thing,” reducing her to one thing which allows others to view her as only that thing. This makes others view her as a worthless person, allowing them to act in ways that reduces Achitophel’s humanity by viewing her as only a fat person, lowering her self-esteem. After the rebirth of Alice Achitophel, Alice’s perspective of herself changed as her physical appearance was altered. In her mind, she was no longer defined as being fat and was eager to reinvent herself as a new person. However, the people in her life continue to view Alice as worthless, causing her to continue to see herself the same way. Her fatness may have been removed but Alice’s negative perception of her self-worth remains. Although Alice is given a sense of identity through the new name, Esther MacAree, she still struggles with her own identity and self-worth throughout the novel, despite her change in physical appearance, because she has so deeply internalized the way society perceives her.
Throughout Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One, internalization affects the way the main character perceives his identity. In the end of the novel, after being asked by Gary, Mark Spitz explains why he is called “Mark Spitz.” Mark mentions the “Northeast Corridor, and the jokes when they got back to Fort Golden Gate,” after giving him this nickname. He reveals that he “laughed along with everyone else, but later had to look up Mark Spitz” in an encyclopedia (Whitehead 287). He learned that the real Mark Spitz is a successful Olympian swimmer and immediately realizes that he is being made fun of through this nickname because he is quite the opposite of the real Mark Spitz. In the beginning of the novel, Whitehead mentions, “They called him Mark Spitz nowadays. He didn’t mind” (9). Mark Spitz is aware that he is being made fun of, yet he is not offended by his nickname because has internalized it to the point that he views himself just as those individuals had when they initially gave him the name; as a joke. Mark Spitz being reduced to “Mark Spitz,” which is not his true identity, and him understanding that he has been named this as a joke, affects his self-concept and the way he views his past. Spitz begins to internalize his self worth and see himself as an average person and nothing more. For instance, he shares, “His most appropriate destination would have been Most Likely Not to Be Named the Most Likely Anything” (Whitehead 11). Mark Spitz reflects his internal thoughts regarding his significance; he shares that he had an unremarkable past. Further, Whitehead states, “His aptitude lay in the well-executed middle, never shining, never flunking, but gathering himself for what it took to progress past life’s next random obstacle” (11). Clearly, it is conveyed that Spitz internalizes his new identity. The constant reminder that others view him as a joke through the repetition of the name, Mark Spitz, leads Mark to take on their beliefs and alters the way he views himself, solely as an insignificant individual.
In the book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century written by William Darity and Kristen Mullen, it is evident that Black individuals are constantly being degraded and looked down upon by their white peers in society. For example, the novel mentions that every African American “has either directly or indirectly experienced racial discrimination or has been indirectly influenced by it” in chapter 12 (Darity & Mullen 1). These individuals are being reduced based upon their race. Consequent to society consistently viewing African Americans as inferior human beings and treating them as such, Black individuals may begin to internalize their worth based on the perceptions of others. Inequity in their society begins to alter their self concept negatively; the unequal treatment that Blacks experience daily can affect the way they perceive their importance as a human being. When treated inhumanely, it is difficult for one not to internalize the aspect of their identity that they are being reduced to. For this reason, “Reparations could be the beginning of a true revolution in values” (Darity & Mullen ch 12-1). In order to reduce societal injustice and reverse internalization that can occur due to racial discrimintaion, steps need to be taken to repair the damage that has been inflicted on Black individuals.
When referencing all of the texts mentioned above, the concept of Internalization comes in multiple different forms and affects people and society in numerous ways. We’ve seen time and time again the negative impact that internalization brings, whether it’s discrimination of something, to shun or belittle, or make others inferior to a norm of society. Internalization of discrimination and stereotypes is still a problem today. The inability of American society as a whole to acknowledge the lasting harm caused by the actions done as a result of reducing groups of people to one thing is arguably one of the biggest problems we face as a nation. Darity and Mullen put it best: “White America must come to terms with its false beliefs about “black behavior” and with the sanitized version of the nation’s history” (7).