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Internalized oppression refers to instances when oppressed peoples begin to accept (often unconsciously) the terms of their oppression, often believing in their own inferiority. A classic and poignant example of this comes from the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1954. A major aspect of the case against school segregation involved the message that it sent African-American children. Even if black schools had been as well-funded by school districts as white schools, the very act of segregating schools told black students that they were not good enough, or wanted by white society. In one brief, a prominent psychologist argued that:
There is a tendency for us to live up to, or perhaps I should say down to, social expectations and to learn what people say we can learn, and legal segregation definitely depresses the Negro's expectancy and is therefore prejudicial to his learning.
In other words, low expectations for academic achievement were part and parcel of the oppression of segregation, and they were so insidious because African-American children (or any other kids in the same situation) would internalize them, or accept them. The NAACP attorneys also cited the famous "doll test" by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. When given black and white dolls, African-American children who lived under segregation overwhelmingly attributed positive characteristics to the white doll, saying that it was prettier, and that they would most want to play with it. The idea, again, was that children under segregation were at risk of internalizing the ideology of inferiority that was used to justify segregation in the first place.
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