Is the Black Community an Internal Colony? A look at “Internal Colonialism”
Harold Cruse coined the term “internal colonialism” in 1961. The theory emphasizes the lines between neighboring regions that are clearly different in culture, economy, politics, and access to resources. Similar to the concept of colonization, the colonizing group controls the colonized through economic and political systems. Internal colonialism describes the uneven effects on a regional basis of economic development. The model also describes how the United States exploits Black citizens through economic policies and practices that benefit mainly whites.
WHAT IS AN INTERNAL COLONY?
In the age of colonization, European powers held colonial territories and directly controlled them as the ruling party. During the colonial period, African Americans who saw themselves as part of the global struggle against colonialism largely adopted the theory of the internal colony. Whereas the external colony is a territory directly controlled by another state, internal colonies are regions within a country. In both cases, the colonized, or oppressed population enjoys less access to resources, and their exploitation lays the foundation of colonial wealth and power.
Although not wholly agreeing with the internal colonization model, author and professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor acknowledges the similarities.
The profits reaped from the exploitation of Black urban dwellers were not insignificant, but neither were they the important revenue streams· back to the American “metropole.” The outflow of capital from the inner city worked almost exclusively to the benefit of the layer of business owners directly involved in economically exploitative relationships with the urban ghetto, such as bankers and real-estate agents. (Taylor 196)
The outflow of capital generally benefits business interests as opposed to the government. As a result, sociologists who subscribe to the internal colonization theory often couple the model with a critique of capitalism.
Nevertheless, due to socially imposed government policies, internal colonies are spaces where people of color are more like colonial subjects than citizens of their own countries. They are often located within metropolitan areas but are not part of them. They are places that have been colonized and under the control of a dominant power. For that reason, ‘black power’ advocates in the 1960s and 1970s largely embraced the internal colony model.
Stokely Carmichael popularized the concept of internal colonialism along with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the late 1960s. In his book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, Stokley Charmichael argues that
Black people in this country form a ‘colony,’ and it is not in the interest of the colonial power to liberate them. Black people are legal citizens of the United States with, for the most part, the same legal rights as other citizens. Yet they stand as colonial subjects in relation to white society.” (Carmichael 5)
To break the bonds of colonization, Black power advocates sought liberation through self-determination, autonomy, and the power to govern themselves.
THE “DARK GHETTO” AS AN INTERNAL COLONY
In his book, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power, Kenneth Clarke describes the “dark ghetto” as the space where internal colonies consisting specifically of Black people and people of color are created and maintained. Ghettoization is a product of social policies such as housing and policing at the heart of the creation and maintenance of the internal colony. In the wake of nationwide uprisings between 1965 and 1967, President Johnson formed the Kerner Commission to determine the root cause of the unrest. Their findings support the notion that the urban ghetto is a societal creation.
This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white-separate and unequal. Segregation and poverty have created … a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood-but what the Negro can never forget-is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it. Social and economic conditions in the riot cities constituted a clear pattern of severe disadvantage for Negroes compared with whites…(Hammond)
The “dark ghetto” is an area of concentrated poverty that forces people to live in subhuman and dehumanizing conditions. Walls, both physical and invisible, form the social structure of the dark ghetto. They are not only physically separated but also psychologically cut off from the rest of America.
…the restriction of persons to a special area and the limiting of their freedom of choice on the basis of skin color. The dark ghetto’s invisible walls have been erected by the white society, by those who have power, both to confine those who have no power and to perpetuate their own powerlessness. The dark ghettos are social, political, educational, and — above all — economic colonies. (Clark 11)
The fact that most residents are poor and lack access to education or jobs reinforces their isolation. In addition, the internal colony model views the police as occupying forces rather than protectors of law and order.
The dark ghettoes are places where the police are constantly present. Patrolling the streets in search of crime, the police create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the dark ghettoes. The police maintain the racial hierarchy controlling the movement of blacks within the ghetto by reinforcing the separation between the black community and the rest of society. Above all, the police ensure that the black community does not challenge the system.
to some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere ‘of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a double standard” of justice and protection-one for Negroes and one for whites-a deep hostility between the police and ghetto … was a primary cause of the riots. (Hammond)
Although the over-policing and incarceration of communities of color is ostensibly a measure to curtail crime in these communities, research suggests that the far-reaching impacts may exacerbate crime rates. The siphoning of human and monetary resources from Black communities stresses families impacted by mass incarceration. As a result, “there is a ‘tipping point,’ after which the number of people in prison is too high so that crime is furthered rather than prevented by incarceration.” (Middlemass et al. 81)
While it may seem counterintuitive, the “tipping point” is a result of the shift in population from the largely urban to largely rural regions in which the prisons are located. The U.S. Bureau of the Census redefines prisoners from poor urban minority communities as living in the region in which they are imprisoned (which is usually far from their homes). The law then transfers funds from the prisoner’s home community to the community in which the prison resides, thereby taking much-needed funds from home communities while the prisoner is locked away and unable to contribute to his or her family. (Middlemass et al. 80)
So, while arguably doing little to diminish crime, there is little question that the over-policing of Black communities is one of the social measures that maintain the internal colony.
While some argue that the term is outdated, internal colonialism describes regions near one another with a clear division between the rich and poor areas. Specifically, residential segregation and policing confine Black Americans to a “dark ghetto.” Whether the metaphor is outdated, the social reality remains. It is essential to dismantle these internal colonies and the exploitative political, economic, and social policies intrinsic to them if there is to be hope for social harmony.
Carmichael, Stokely, et al. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. Vintage Books, 1992.
Clark Kenneth Bancroft and Gunnar Myrdal. Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power. [First edition] ed. Harper & Row 1965.
Hammond, James. “This is a reproduction of a library book that was digitized by Google as part of an ongoing effort to preserve the information.” Othering & Belonging Institute, https://belonging.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/kerner_commission_full_report.pdf. Accessed 26 September 2022.
Middlemass, Keesha, et al., editors. Racializing Justice, Disenfranchising Lives: The Racism, Criminal Justice, and Law Reader. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007
Taylor Keeanga-Yamahtta. From #Blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation. Haymarket Books 2016.