News & Events


April 28, 2016

“Internalized Oppression” Presentation by EJ David

On January 12, 2016, Dr. Eric J. (EJ) David presented a talk titled, “Oppression Under the Skin: The Manifestation and Implications of Internalized Oppression,” at IWRI’s Quarterly Speaker Series.

EJ DavidDavid’s research focuses on the way in which colonial history and present-day oppression has inflicted the crippling effects of internalized oppression on indigenous peoples. He unapologetically emphasizes the Filipino experience as the basis of his research because as he states, “It’s a history, it’s an experience and it’s a reality that needs to be shared, told and that needs to be part of the larger conversation.” David’s research is important in understanding how marginalized populations have been conditioned to feel “lesser than” the dominant, inherently white, cultural standard, ways in which we can deconstruct internalized oppression and ways we can heal.

Long before arrival of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the Philippines already had established ways of living. Indigenous Filipinos utilized self-sustaining practices of fishing, farming and mining, worshipped the supreme being of Bathala and other deities, spoke multiple dialects specific to their region and employed the ancient writing system of Baybayin. Many of these practices were banned and replaced with colonial educational, spiritual, economic, political and social structures during the era of Spanish rule as efforts to “civilize” and “Christianize” Filipinos. By establishing a clear contrast between the colonizer “superior” and colonized “inferior,” the Spanish developed a rationale for their domination.

Centuries of resistance against colonial powers resulted in the Philippine Declaration of Independence proclaimed in 1989. However, months later, the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War was signed, transferring control of the Philippines from Spain to the United States. David explains that the U.S. utilized education, rather than outright oppression, to pacify Filipinos and instill them with American ideals. As American nationals, many Filipinos migrated the U.S. where the legacy of colonization, discrimination, racism and oppression persists.

Modern day oppression takes many forms, both overt and covert. Ranging from blatant discrimination in treatment to societal standards of beauty, all of these structural influences are internalized and negatively affect one’s self-image and self-worth. As David’s research shows, the deep seated colonial history in tandem with contemporary experienced oppression results in internalized oppression. Many Filipinos feel ashamed of their appearance, primarily dark skin, which causes the overwhelming advertisement and use of skin lightening products in the Philippines. This notion of light skin as beautiful is toxic to many communities of color. David has also conducted research utilizing implicit association surveys that demonstrates how Filipinos implicitly associate themselves and their culture with concepts relating to “inferiority” and conversely dominant American culture with “superiority.”

Not only do Filipinos turn this experience of oppression inward toward themselves but also toward other members of their group. David uses the example of one interviewee’s experience to highlight inner-group discrimination. The interviewee grew up bilingual was teased throughout her childhood for her Filipino accent. She internalized and projected this oppression onto other Filipinos and subconsciously judged and belittled other Filipinos with accents because she viewed them as not fully assimilated.

David states that spreading awareness and raising critical consciousness around this issue is an important first step. “There are decolonization programs and efforts nationally and internationally which are promises,” David, says with hope. Within these movements of decolonization, David suggests that nurturing a strong ethnic identity can serve as an effective protective factor against internalized oppression. “Being knowledgeable and connected to one’s heritage group is a good moderating factor for the negative effects of internalized oppression on health”, says David. While many indigenous communities share these similar yet distinct colonial histories and contemporary oppressions, they also share cultural pride and resilience that will lend to the healing of our people.

About the presenter: Dr. David grew up in Barrow, Alaska, an Inupiat village that is considered to be the northernmost town of the United States, and where he considers is his hometown. It is there where he met his wife, a Koyukon Athabascan from Alaska’s interior. They are the parents of three children.

He is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. His research focuses on understanding how cultural mixes among individuals of racial/ethnic minority groups influence their emotions, attitudes, behaviors, and well-being. In addition, he has been examining the psychological experiences of Filipino Americans as well as the effects of oppression/colonization among other historically oppressed groups such as Native Americans and Alaska Natives, investigating mental health consequences of subtle, overt, historical, contemporary, interpersonal, and institutional discrimination, racism, and oppression.