War on Internalized Racism in Sajókaza by Million Kassa Bekele (ሚልዮን ካሳ በቀለ)

2017. szeptember 3. vasárnap, 03:49Dalit.hu


War on Internalized Racism in Sajókaza by Million Kassa Bekele (ሚልዮን ካሳ በቀለ)

image002Recently I was given the opportunity to participate in a summer program that was organized by secular scouts that came from France to Sajókaza. The program was an outcome of the collaboration between the scouts from France and Dr. Ámbédkar School, a school which pride itself for being a Buddhist movement that is anchored in addressing the racism most Roma students face daily in most Hungarian schools and as a result, most of its pupils are from a Roma background. Prior to this program, I had very little knowledge of scout’s life and the importance of the organization itself. Nevertheless, it did not take me much to realize how it was needed in places like Sajókaza. The back ground of the program is the school several attempt to organize this program with the scouts in Hungary, I was also present in one of those negotiation. Unfortunately it failed miserably for the obvious reason. The scouts in Hungary like most scouts movements around the world has been hijacked by right wing plus religious movements. The nationalist movement in Hungary is no different from almost all of the nationalist movements in East European countries, which is a movement highly fermented by anti-Gypsy sentiment. This explain why the attempt to organize the summer program with the Hungarian scouts was a failure, though there is no doubt there probably are some sensible people in the scouts, their voice seems to be silenced.

image003By now, significance number of researches has shown prolonged institutional racism will eventually be internalized by the victims as much as by those who benefit from it. And this particular form of racism is called internalized racism. Donna K. Bivens defines internalized racism as a “situation that occurs in a racist system when a racial group oppressed by racism supports the supremacy and dominance of the dominating group by maintaining or participating in the set of attitudes, behaviors, social structures and ideologies that undergird the dominating group’s power.” (Bivens, 1995). This specific definition is very useful in helping us understand why so many Roma students do not perform well in schools compared to their counterparts. For centuries, Roma students were describe as unteachable ethnic groups who lack discipline and intellect. Because of these prejudice, Roma students compared to other ethnic groups were put in to a so called special classes in high percentage that rigorously limited their academic progress, when they manage to be in the same class with their counterparts, they are discouraged inside and outside class rooms by people that even sometimes mean well and as an outcome of that particular historical process, the community has been severely demoralized and discouraged from participating in the educational system. This has been taking place for centuries, as a consequence, the Roma community has developed a negative attitude to educational institutions.

image004This phenomena by some who does not take internalized racism in to account put the burden of responsibility on the shoulder of individual Roma students and their family. It may be too difficult to investigate this phenomena, but looking at some of the cases of the students who have gone through that process shows how it is visible to see if there is a willingness to dig deep, by investigating how and why they show a complete lack of confidence on themselves and their ability when it comes to education plus utmost distaste for the educational institution which has done anything but educate them. During my participation in the scouts program, I have noticed most of the students are unwilling to response in English when they are asked a question they obviously know the answer to, when asked as to why they are unwilling to reply, they simply responded “I am not good enough” or they are afraid people may mock them. It should be understood that there is a difference between human wounds like self-hatred to which all people are vulnerable to and internalized racism “It is important to understand it as systemic because that makes it clear that it is not a problem simply of individuals. It is structural. Thus, even people of color who have „high self-esteem” must grapple with internalized racism. As people of color are victimized by racism, we internalize it. That is, we develop ideas, beliefs, actions and behaviors that support or collude with racism.” (Bivens, 1995).

image005There are research that has been done which shows the correlation between racism and its impact on school and career performance of a minority communities. Turner research on the relationship between race-related stress and the career planning and confidence for African-American Is a best example of that, the research has shown how much it demoralize the students to the point that they could not imagine a better life for themselves and their family “African-Americans will select career paths that require manual labor and other skills, but not a higher education degree.” (Turner, 2015). as experts on the Roma community has exposed, the Roma community has never had the power to construct their own identity, their identity has always been constructed for them by outsiders, in the past they were described as people who practice sorcery and magic, people who steal and sing. The way they are portrayed in today’s educational system is not that different (Matras, 2015), the only difference being it works in more sinister and subliminal way. Students are “encouraged” to focus on things they are “good” at, for the Roma students that usually means perusing career that do not require higher education degree and challenging this gravity as an individual student without any help and social support is a daunting task as research has shown “Early experiences of racial discrimination in school may lead African-Americans to believe that their education will not benefit them. They may perceive that racial barriers will hold them back regardless of hard work.” (Turner, 2015).

image006However challenging the task may be, it is not impossible to help the students to overcome these challenges by generating organizational framework and creating a supportive environment for the students to break through, and there is a research backing this claim. Programs like the one organized in Sajókaza is a workable experiment that could pave the way on how to confront the deep-rooted problems facing Roma youth, it should be understood that this is not the only way forward. Similar programs can be organized in the same spirit. If we take all of the nationalistic and religious jargon out of the scouts’ spirit, we find a spirit of youth engagement and habilitation. The Philippines scouts Mission is a best example of that „To help the youth develop values and acquire competencies to become responsible citizens and capable leaders” (Boy Scouts of the Philippines, 2017). This mission is in accordance with the finding of the privies research, giving the student a kind of therapy that will help them gain their self-confidence and pride “Findings from this study have the possibility of providing counselors the tools they need to remedy this deficiency by identifying the values and beliefs African-American young adults hold dear to ensure they will be empowered to overcome barriers that might impede their progression to enroll and complete college and ultimately in the world of work” (Turner, 2015). The scouts program can be a best tool in providing counseling to the student in the form of playful games and team work, as the scouts program in Sajókaza has shown, it helps them to build their confidence and trust in their ability. Internalized racism not only harm how they see themselves but also on how they relate to one another, the different games the scouts have develop to encourage team work and social bond is one of the informal counseling that will help them have different take on how they see one another and work together. There were different cases that has been witnessed in the Sajókaza scouts program on how the students who use to engage in physical and verbal violence constantly at the beginning of the program have managed to reduce their level of aggression to each other to a very significant number at the end of the program, this little steps in the long run will be instrumental in “preparing the youth to become agents of change in communities” (Boy Scouts of the Philippines, 2017).

image007Racism as a social pathology can be dealt with using the same methodology that are used by medical experts to fight a medical epidemic which is by creating a vaccine. If vaccine is an antigenic substance prepared from the causative agent of a disease or a synthetic substitute, used to provide immunity against one or several diseases, we can also deal with racism in the same way, we can create a program that will introduce the students to structural and internalized racism so they would create an intellectual immune system which they well use to confront it in everyday life. A vaccine would stop the disease from spreading further, so it would not do more damage than it already has done. Nonetheless, combating the spread of the disease may be the traditional function of a vaccine, recently there are new finding that shows what experts call therapeutic vaccines, a type of vaccination that help people who already have been infected by the disease, it works by boosting their immune system’s to response to an illness (Griffin, 2005 – 2017 ). The scouts program will serve as a vaccination to the social pathology of racism, not only against the racism Roma students face daily from others but also the racism they have internalized. The point is not to avoid racism but to face it, but in a way how vaccine work, the trick is to help the students confront racism in a managed format so that they will be able to develop the intellectually respond to it when they face it in the real world. It is impossible to vaccinate everyone, nonetheless disease experts have found that the more a certain community is vaccinated, the more chance there would be in protecting even people who have not been vaccinated. They call this herd immunity “Herd immunity is the concept that with a large percentage of the population vaccinated, those unvaccinated receive ‘indirect protection’, as the spread of a disease outbreak is limited.” (VacciNATION, 2015). Though it is important in having as much student as possible to be involved in the scouts program, this medical theory show us it may not be necessary to involve everyone, because it would also work in the best interest of those who may not be involved in the program by pushing the odds in their favor without being directly involved in it.

image008With all the success of the program, there were some shortcoming of the program. I have been informed by all of the visiting scouts who organized the program that they have taken the program completely as it exist in their home country and tried to apply it here, most of those programs activities were very successful but there were some which could not function well as planned because of the difference social condition that exit, this has created a kind of frustration for both the students and the conductors. Designing a program that take the social condition the students live in, vis-à-vis the internalized and structural racism the students have to grapple with in context is imperative. All in all, I have to give my biggest appreciation for the people who made this program possible, their level of commitment and dedication was beyond my imagination, and especially the level of commitment to community responsibility the youngster from France has shown was inspirational. last but not least, the youngsters in Sajókaza are the most talented individuals, they are not just another talented kids but the level of energy they put to their talent shows me if provided enough opportunity, this are kids that could go further, even beyond getting a university degree which so far most Roma students have been denied.

Million Kassa Bekele is an Ethiopian MA student at Pécs University. He has been volunteering at Dr Ámbédkar High School for one year.

Million Kassa Bekele is an Ethiopian MA student at Pécs University. He has been volunteering at Dr Ámbédkar High School for one year.


Bivens, D. K. (1995). internalized racism: a definition. Retrieved August 2017, from 1995. http://www.thewtc.org/internalize_racism.pdf

Boy Scouts of the Philippines. (2017). mission and vision. p. mission and vision. Retrieved August 2017, from http://scouts.org.ph/vision-and-mission/

Griffin, R. M. ( 2005 – 2017 ). Treating Disease With Vaccines. Retrieved August 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/vaccines/features/treating-disease-with-vaccines#1

NHS UK. (2016). Vaccination. Health A-Z NHS Choices. Retrieved August 2017, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vaccinations/Pages/How-vaccines-work.aspx

Turner, D. T. (2015). Te relationship between race-related stress and the career planning and confdence for African-American. Retrieved August 2017, from htp://ir.uiowa.edu/etd/1920

VacciNATION. (2015). Have you heard about Herd Immunity? Retrieved August 2017, from https://globalhealthprojectvaccinations.wordpress.com/

Matras, Y. (2015). The Romani Gypsies. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press.