Internalised Racism in a World Filled with Color: The Case of Yellow-on-Yellow Racism

Racism has been in debate for so long, whether it actually exists, is justified or just downright play. However, in a world full of close-minded opinions, and hateful debauchery, racism is intact in society. The only question is why? Why is the world so entitled of their own hateful and disgusting opinions even if it hurts and degrades others? Also, why is internalised racism still a thing?


In Robin Nicole Johnson’s The Psychology of Racism, she wrote that this definition does “not provide a sense of the complexities or dynamics of racism”, and proposes the definition be ”an individual’s conscious and unconscious acceptance of a racial hierarchy in which whites are consistently ranked above People of Color”.1

Internalised racism is one of the most common forms of racism that people fail to acknowledge. With the continuous reports on racism on television, social networking sites (SNS), and personal cases of internalised racism, one might know already why racism is still alive and well.

Internalised racism is one of the most common forms of racism that people fail to acknowledge.

It cannot be reduced to one form or be assumed to affect similar individuals or groups in the same way. It is a condition of all the structures of oppression. It is the result of all the institutions, whether it is media, government, social narratives, that affect the very way a person thinks about themselves, and others.2

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Donna K. Bivens gave a personal account of internalised racism that she has experienced:3

“I was recently at a reception honoring a group of prominent African Americans, held at the home of a gracious and generous white woman philanthropist. Many guests arrived before the honorees, and those present included a handful of Black people among the 30 or 40 predominately white guests. The first people to greet me when I walked in were two other African American women I had met briefly over a year before. We struck up a conversation, reminiscing about the event where we’d met. One of the women walked away for a moment and as she was walking back to our spot the hostess joined her and good-naturedly said to us, “Are all the Black women over here in a corner talking to each other?! Go out and meet people.” The three of us froze. And then, very slowly and without speaking of it to each other, we dispersed.”

Because people have been accustomed that racism usually relates to white privilege or black racism, there is a lack of knowledge on the topic of yellow-on-yellow racism (discrimination within the Asian ethnicity and culture).


Prevalence of Intra-Asian Racism in Some Regions

In some parts of Asia, fellow Asian tourists and immigrants have had experiences being discriminated, in restaurants and workplaces. It is still in huge debate whether this has been brought about by passed down culture or an actual social problem. This takes place among several matters: looks, language, and biases.

Looks are commonplace in racism, and often the main reason of racism in Asia. The problem is, for Asians with mixed races, like Korean-Americans, Chinese-Japanese, etc., if their appearance does not fit the “homogenous” country that they live in, no matter the number of foreign workers and immigrants, they’re still prone to being bullied in school or becoming an outcast.

Han Hyun Min, a Nigerian-Korean model said in an interview with BBC, “A lot of Koreans use the word heukhyeong (meaning black older brother). We [black people] find the word very offensive but a lot of people use it without knowing.”Han was born to a Nigerian father and a Korean mother and was raised in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul, and yet, he is still being discriminated by fellow Koreans. He had modeling agencies tell him that they won’t book him for his skin color and looks that apparently, don’t match the Korean culture.

Article 2 of South Korea’s Nationality Act states, “A person whose father or mother is a national of the Republic of Korea at the time of the person’s birth…shall be a national of the Republic of Korea.” However, multiracial children who do not have relations with their biological fathers or mothers, therefore cannot prove their Korean ties — such as Kopino children — often cannot obtain citizenship. This form of discrimination often affects poorer immigrants, who are also often abused by their employers and subject to daily racism.5

Dongseo University Professor Brian says, in a report from The Diplomat, the issue in the South needs to be viewed through two separate prisms: century-old nationalism and much older xenophobia, wherein foreign traders were being restricted to certain parts of the peninsula well before the Korean people learned from the Japanese how to look at the world in racial categories which makes it harder to figure out whether discrimination against foreigners in South Korea has more to do with xenophobia or nationalism.6 Some deny the fact that racism exists in the country, while others might shift the conversation to colorism, ethnocentrism, or xenophobia.

Some deny the fact that racism exists in the country, while others might shift the conversation to colorism, ethnocentrism, or xenophobia.

On the other hand, Japan in 2017, sparked a controversy on SNS with a photo of a hand-written sign in the entrance of a cosmetics shop in Japan, which said Chinese people were not allowed to enter. Although gathering massive attention from Chinese netizens, the controversy only had little coverage in Japan and received a brief mention in the few media outlets that covered it at all. “For Japanese people, racial discrimination is an inconvenient truth and most Japanese do not want to believe it exists in their society because they have been told there is only one race in Japan,” said Debito Arudou, a human-rights activist who was born David Schofill in California and became a naturalised Japanese citizen in 2000, in a report from the SCMP.7

In the same year, the Justice Ministry released its first-ever nationwide survey of racial and ethnic discrimination in Japan, it reported that 30 percent of non-Japanese respondents (mostly being ethnic Koreans and Chinese residents) reported they had been the targets of discriminatory speech, with over 40 percent reporting that they had been the victims of housing discrimination.8

Ariana Miyamoto (C) from Miyazaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan, makes a speech in Tokyo on March 12, 2015 after being chosen to represent the country at Miss Universe 2015 contest.
Photo by Kyodo/AP

In the case of Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto in 2015, who is also biracial, following online forums, Japanese who criticize Japan have their Japanese bona fides questioned and run the risk of being denounced as Japan-hating crypto-ethnic Koreans, as was suggested by many of the attacks on Miyamoto.9

Racism is also prevalent in Thailand, though only little knows of. In 2014, when Nonthawan “Maeya” Thongleng won the beauty contest, Miss Thailand World, she had a lot of comments that were centered on how dark her skin was compared to typical contestants. Having darker skin is often associated in Thailand with manual, outdoor labour, and therefore with being “lower class”. Also much of the urban elite are of ethnic Chinese origin, who tend to have lighter skin than the indigenous people of the Thai countryside.10

Like a typical occurrence in most Asian countries, dark skin is equated with outdoor labor conditions and the lower classes.11 Thai culture shares this type of skin-toned bias as the rest of Asia. Asian attitudes regarding skin tones have been around for a long time. Prior to contact with the West, Indian culture permeated the early civilizations of Southeast Asia, which possibly included the ideal of fair skin over darker skin. Studies show that many view themselves as less desirable than those with lighter skin. Skin whitening products have proven increasingly popular in most of Asia, including Thailand and are marketed in such a way as to promote light skin as beautiful and desirable, as according to Western light.12

In the Philippines, there is racism when Chinese-Filipinos are questioned whether they’re Filipino enough; when “mixed” Filipinos’ opinions are discredited for being related to Western or other colonizers’ blood, and more.13 And the light of having white skin as a measure of beauty on the Philippines has also dawned upon the importing of skin whitening products.

Come to think of it, once one steps out or looks different from what society perceives them to be (mostly in an ethnically homogenous country), one can be called out as not nationalistic enough or not a descendant of the people. It’s weird to be considered or treated as if you’re not from the land of which you were born in or naturalized at.

Is this the fate of Asian acceptance and identity?


Why is there yellow-on-yellow or intra-Asian racism?

First of all, discrimination within the Asian race is a huge deal; it can vary from one race discriminating another to discriminating one’s own race.

It’s a weird and confusing concept, and it seems like an endless cycle of unknown nothingness; but it is a problem. This goes way back to history, while other scenarios actually came from the infamous westernisation. If one Googles “Asians racist against Asians” or “Intra-Asian racism”, there’s hardly any website you can click on that explains what it is spot-on. You have to dig deep into the web to find anything close to those topics.

Let’s start with how, historically, Asians started excluding fellow Asians.

Invectives against “Chinamen,” “Japs,” and “Ragheads” marred the first decades of America’s homegrown encounter with Asia. From the 1850s to the 1920s, anti-Asian agitation from the local to the national level was fueled by fear, stereotype, and racism. The agitation that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 grew to include other Asian immigrants. The Japanese and Korean exclusion movement dilated into the Asiatic Exclusion League, formed in 1908 to work for the exclusion of all Asian immigrants whom the League declared to be “utterly unfit and incapable of discharging the duties of American citizenship.”14

The concept of globalization has also brought intra-Asian racism, with Hollywood’s portrayal of Asian characters, and sometimes, the lack of such.

Negative stereotypes, when repeated, eventually become ideologies and knowledge that is taken for granted. In television shows or movies, Asians are frequently subjected to open slurs and discrimination, and either portrayed as deserving of or highly tolerant towards such treatment. Some examples are Asian men are unattractive, Asians are short, Asians have no creativity, or Asians are nerds.

In television shows or movies, Asians are frequently subjected to open slurs and discrimination, and either portrayed as deserving of or highly tolerant towards such treatment.

Over the last 25 years, many films that create caricatures of Asians have been produced such as: the “Perpetual Foreigner”, the “Model Minority”, the “Gendered Racism: Sexualized female, Asexual male”, the “Inferior”, and the “Willing/Deserving targets of open denigration.”15

Not only does this continuous depiction of Asians “brainwash” fellow Asians (that was rooted from movies and television shows), but also Asians, within themselves, are able to create negative thoughts and self-hate because of the stereotyping and low-level expectations. It becomes real for Asians and for other races. It becomes a subordinated identity, which is false from the start.

Asians, who then believe their subordinated identity is somewhat real, come to believe themselves to be inferior to other races, or even with their own. The inferiority builds into jokes and comedic stunts that people do. But is that racism? When they try to attempt to construct an oppositional identity or any attempts to do so are done per categories and meanings dictated by those who discriminate.

This occurs in a phenomenon called defensive othering by those with internalized racism by attempting to become a part of the dominant group or distancing themselves from those who are the same as them.16 This goes for any race, where the concept is “if you can’t beat them, join them”, and that becomes a defense mechanism by anyone who wishes not to be discriminated or left out. It gets passed down from one generation to the next, adding up to the inferiority of the race and false thoughts about one’s identity.

It shouldn’t be that way; and there should be more research on this area for purposes of knowledge. Also, this way of thinking needs to be dissolved fast, as Asians and most importantly, as humans, no matter the history or culture, should always see respect, hear respect, feel respect, and talk with respect.

Photo Source: Getty Images



1. Robin Nicole Johnson, The Psychology of Racism: How Internalized Racism, Academic Self-concept, and Campus Racial Climate Impact the Academic Experiences and Achievement of African American Undergraduates

 2. AZN Identity, Internalized Racism Among Asians,

3. Donna K. Bivens, What is Internalized Racism?,

4. Ho Kyeong Jang, How Bad Is Racism in South Korea?,

5. Ho Kyeong Jang, How Bad Is Racism in South Korea?,

6. South Korea’s Racism Debate,

7. Julian Ryall, Why is Racism so Big in Japan?,

John G. Russell, Face the reality of racism in Japan,

John G. Russell, Face the reality of racism in Japan,

 ‘Racist’ Thailand skin-whitening advert is withdrawn,

 “Images Spark Racism Debate in Thailand : The New Yorker”. Retrieved2014-06-07.

Napat Chaipraditkul (6 August 2013). “Thailand: beauty and globalized self-identity through cosmetic therapy and skin lightening” (PDF). Ethics In Science And Environmental Politics. 13: 27–37. doi:10.3354/esep00134.

Gideon Lasco, Filipinos and racism,

Harvard University, The Pluralism Project, Asians and Asian Exclusion,

AZN Identity, Internalized Racism Among Asians,

AZN Identity, Internalized Racism Among Asians,

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Political Anthropologist.