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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 1, 2004
 

     
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Robert J. Lewis
 
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AN EXAMINATION OF ETHNICITY AND SELF-HATRED

by Robert J. Lewis

 

Of the many psychological disorders afflicting visible minorities, none is more unforgiving than self-hatred. To know oneself as self-hating can be an unbearable humiliation from which there is often no escape – other than self-deception. Forbidden ProductionBelgium surrealist René Magritte has a painting of a man who looks into the mirror and sees the back of his head. The self-hating are of this ilk.

So overwhelming are the feelings associated with self-hatred that even among themselves the self-hating cannot speak of it. Unlike the thief who cries hunger, or the rapist provocation, the self-hater has no recourse because he refuses to admit to his condition. For this reason, being self-hating is arguably the most incarcerating of psychological states. Unable to forge meaningful links with the world at large, the self-hater retreats into the solipsistic world of his minority group, only to find himself condemned to face feelings more powerful and obdurate than his powers of understanding. Every effort to escape himself (to become invisible), like the man trying to lose his shadow, meets with failure. The accumulated frustration takes its toll. The self-hater evolves a gait and grammar singular to his anguish and impotence; and a patent smile that conceals a not-so-secret death wish. Is it any wonder the self-hating end up contracting their ‘Weltanshauung’ (world view) into an ‘us’ and ‘them?’

Like enfeebled lungs to an oxygen tank, the self-hating, desperate to lose themselves in the sea of their own kind, reflexively congregate to insulate themselves against the intolerance which gives rise to self-hatred, only to discover that the community which makes it possible for them to enjoy invisibility, as it consolidates and expands, ironically gains in visibility, and becomes an even easier target for all sorts of misguided but often lethal causes.

It comes as no surprise that the positive tolerance practiced among like-members of minorities is inversely proportionate to the intolerance practiced against them. Thus, the Jews, as history’s most notoriously persecuted minority, are probably the most self-hating as well as mutually supportive, a development that partially redeems the stereotype of ghettos that thrive as safe zones for the self-hating.

AUTHENTIC AND INAUTHENTIC SELF-HATRED

If the etiology of self-hatred remains obscure, it is because the afflicted have been stubbornly unwilling to admit to, much less speak about their sickness of being. And of the few that do come out, unlike gays, it’s not to celebrate their condition but to overcome it, only to discover that the road to self-esteem is not only a straight, up-hill climb, but it has almost disappeared from view, so untravelled is it.

Self-hatred is not a nightmare from which one suddenly awakens. It is a war of attrition against a negative self-image that requires nothing less than a complete interrogation of one’s core assumptions and values. And even this may not be enough. The bitter roots of self-hatred often extend to long forgotten or repressed childhood experiences.

Of the self-hating there are three types. Type A’s self-hatred is externally caused. It is a consequences of intolerance practiced against him as an individual of a minority or his minority as an entity. He comes to hate himself because others hate him. Type A has no self, is hostage to public perception and is ‘inauthentic’ in his being. Most self-haters are Type As.

Type B’s self-hatred is ‘authentic’ because he is the source. He comes to hate himself as a member of a minority because it espouses beliefs or principles with which he disagrees. A minority member who deplores his group’s derogation of women may come to despise his membership in that group. He can then decide to either attempt to modify the principles of his group, or convert to another whose values are more commensurate with his own, or forgo altogether belonging to a group. A Muslim’s conversion to Catholicism is authentic when after having interrogated his own values he concludes they coincide with those of Catholicism. The conversion is inauthentic when the Muslim, self-hating as a consequence of intolerance, converts merely to be relieved is his self-hatred. The ideal member of a minority would be so constituted that he would choose to become a member of that group if he were not already one. A group that forbids free association, or restricts membership, may cultivate authentic self-hating members for those very reasons.

The virus of self-hatred thrives where visible members gather to become invisible. In particular, it preys on the young.

All youngsters seek approval; their behavior is conditioned by reward and punishment. When a youngster discovers he is disliked (intolerated) for being a member of a minority, he will ‘reflexively’ attempt to modify himself to win approval. When he rudely learns he cannot change his pigmentation, ethnic or religious affiliation, his only recourse is to turn to his imaginative faculties, and with ‘impunity’ yearn ‘not to be’ what he is. In this yearning, self-hatred is born, drawing its first breath for perhaps the life-time to come. Experiencing it as only a youngster can – in the full force of the present – he will go to great lengths to avoid situations which provoke self-hatred and collateral feelings of powerlessness and low self-esteem. It is no surprise that youngsters of minorities band together to insulate themselves from unlike members.

But the youngster, the hapless heir to his parents’ or community’s negative self-image, is not responsible for his self-hatred. He does not choose to be born into his ethnic or racial group. He does not choose to be self-hating, merely the unreflected response to intolerance. Lacking the cognitive maturity to expose the false claims of self-hatred, it is all too predictable that youngsters subjected to intolerance become self-hating. That they are condemned to grow up feeling ashamed of themselves is surely regrettable, but never shameful.

The adult, however, is existentially responsible for who he is. In exercising free choice, the self hating adult ‘chooses’ to remain in self-hatred because he chooses to leave the question of his self-hatred unexamined. He persuades himself that if he ignores or denies the condition it will simply go away – a wishful thinking that leads him to seek out his own cloistered kind, but at the expense of a world that is reduced to his blinkered conception of it. So in turning away from self-hatred, which is always a turning toward self-deception, the adult is forever haunted by it. All the major decisions of his life, his choice of career, his social milieu are informed by his negative self-image.

That there is a symmetrical cause and effect relationship between career success and high self-esteem predicts that a disproportionate number of minority members will achieve 'exceptional' career success to compensate for 'exceptionally' low self-esteem. Type C emerges with a split-personality: he remains self-hating as a consequences of intolerance, but he is also self-esteeming as a consequence of career success. The newer self, now much admired and rewarded for his accomplishments, may discover that the self-esteem conferred by a successful career provides such lasting relief from self-hatred, he may take to it (his work) like a drug – a disguised death-wish. In his obsession to vanquish the self-hater he is, he is driven to achieve exceptional career success (often inconsiderate of health and family). And if at the end of the day he is handsomely rewarded for his industry, the twisted motivation that underlies his activity remains hidden and of no practical interest to society at large.

How then do we judge the self-hater who has achieved great career success which allows him to be self-esteeming? He may believe himself to be de facto free from the shackles of self-hatred, but his self esteem is at best problematic since it doesn't originate from within: he is still very much hostage to public opinion. The activity which he believes allows him to work out his self-hatred is instead a direct effect of it. And no matter how masterfully carried out, it always proceeds from what he is – self-hating.

In certain individuals, self-hatred is so unbearable, the victim resorts to what he would normally regard as unconscionable conduct in order to deliver himself from the milieu he erroneously holds responsible for his self-loathing. If quiet defection to another group is the least offensive public expression of self-hatred, its ugly and not uncommon counterpart has the self-hater transferring his private self-hatred to his group as a whole. In denouncing his own group, he instead becomes the author of intolerance – a practice by which he hopes to disassociate himself from his minority identity -- only to discover that he cannot run away from himself, while becoming a source of shame and embarrassment to his group as a whole.

A more acceptable means of coping is for minority members to inure themselves against intolerance through the mechanism of the ethnic huddle. In small groups, ethnics gather together and playfully mock their own cultural characteristics. In an atmosphere calculated to induce catharsis, they invoke the epithets and pejoratives by which the group is negatively identified. These self-inflicted blows, many of which are delivered with humor, serve the purpose of toughening up the minority’s fragile psyche, so when these same slurs are received from the outside, they will have less impact on the now callused self-hater. (Afro Americans invoking the ‘n’-word ad nauseam). However therapeutically beneficial is the ethnic huddle in providing some immunity against intolerance, its origins are inauthentic because it does not address the causes of self-hatred. Self-hatred is authentic only when it is self-directed.

________________

With the 21st century already upon us, two demographic trends are very much in evidence: unprecedented world-wide migration and high birth rates among immigrants and refugees which predict that minority groups will occupy an increasing percentage of any host country’s population; and that the self-hatred that uniquely afflicts visible minorities will continue to thrive unchecked unless community leaders finally grant the problem the severity it deserves. As long as ethnic communities continue to serve as island fortresses or places of refuge for the self-hating, the damage done is only going to get worse.

If minority communities are to find their place in the sun, they must find the will to purge themselves of what is inauthentic in their self-definition in order to create values around which individuals gather wilfully and enthusiastically, where adults can be healed and the young taught to be whole. This presupposes that the virus of self-hated has been identified and its crippling effects brought into the open, a daunting challenge whose success or failure bears directly on the social health of any host country.

 

 

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