by PAJAH WILLIAMS
The process of coming to terms with one’s minority status tends to look a lot like the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The first of these is denial.
Denial: The effects of racism, sexism, and homophobia are both pervasive and systemic. Rather than allowing oneself to be a victim of hegemony, it is easy to internalize hatred and turn against one’s own minority group.
Internalized racism, misogyny, and homophobia are defense mechanisms that people use to protect their own egos. Most people value inclusion. They do not want to be excluded from the benefits that the in-group offers, and if they perceive their minority status as a hindrance, they become frustrated with their identities and often dissociate from their respective groups in order to be accepted.
Take Caitlyn Jenner, for example. Jenner famously underwent a male-to-female gender reassignment surgery and became an icon for the LGBTQ community in 2015. When she came out publically, Jenner pleaded for people to accept her sexual identity. Months later, however, Jenner received backlash for comments that she made on Ellen. The former Olympic gold medalist claimed that she values traditional relationships between men and women and is reluctant to accept marriage equality.
Jenner’s contradictory condemnation of homosexuality is akin to a black person saying, “I’m not like those stereotypical black people” or a closeted gay man declaring, “Being gay is disgusting. I could ‘never’ be that way.” Mentalities like these allow members of a minority group to distance and distinguish themselves. It is an act of denial.
Anger: As the masking effects of denial die down, reality sets in, and anger takes its place. Anger may be directed internally or at the rules of society that bar a person from opportunities or expression.
Externalized anger is ever-present in the African American community today in light of recent events involving wrongful killings and police brutality. Bolstering anger toward law enforcement has generated disrespect and fear of authority among black people -- especially young people. The recurrences of injustice have steered conversations about race in America away from offering solutions to being more cynical about the future. While anger is a natural and even healthy response to injustice, when it elevates to a point of relentlessness and cynicism, it does not yield progress.
Bargaining: As it relates to grieving one’s minority status, the stage of bargaining is similar to denial in that it involves assimilation. Unlike denial, however, people in the bargaining stage may not necessarily distance themselves from their minority group entirely. Rather, they compromise their values, customs, and culture in the face of the public while retaining these virtues in their private lives.
An early 20th century psychoanalyst, Joan Riviere, describes femininity as a masquerade, because social rules and expectations determine how a woman should act in order to be accepted in society. An “ideal” woman should be docile, beautiful, nurturing, well-mannered, and to a certain extent, domestic. Women who openly defy these rules often face condemnation.
For instance, a woman who is assertive is likely to be judged more harshly than a man who is equally assertive, because men are expected to take command while women are expected to be more reserved. As a result, some women avoid being bold or confrontational, even if it is is within their nature.
Depression: There is no sorrow like the tears of the oppressed. There is no pain like the suffocating anesthetic of hegemony. It can be exhausting trying to find balance between assimilation and preservation of one’s culture. Many minority groups are vulnerable to hate crimes and discrimination. They also face stereotypes in the media and in their daily interactions. All of these things weigh down on a person’s sense of self and on their outlook of the world.
Acceptance: Alas, acceptance. In spite of all the negativity surrounding it, being a member of a marginalized minority can still be an enriching experience. One way that people are able to embrace their identities is by bonding with others who share similar struggles and experiences. There is strength in solidarity, and there is so much to learn from being under-privileged: lessons about the value of equality and the necessity of treating humans like they are human. When minorities and their allies stand together to speak out about injustices and misconceptions that others may have about their groups, they are able to promote positive change.