Thesis: thoughts on microaggressions & racism

February 26, 2019 Thesis

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.*

As I’ve been turning over ideas for thesis, I’ve found myself remembering the microaggressions, unintentional biases, and racism I, and others in my life, have encountered.

Some of them, on the surface, seem like well-intended compliments. For example, “you speak really well”, which, in my head I automatically add on “for a black girl”. As if there’s some surprise at the fact that I can hold a conversation. Others possibly come from a place of curiosity, “can I touch your hair”(if they ask first at all), or “do all Black people ____”. And while I don’t mind answering some questions from friends, but there’s a certain level of familiarity that I need to feel comfortable to do so. I once had a friend’s grandmother refer to me (never to my face) as “that colored girl”, even though she liked me. That one particularly was weird, because she was of an age where that was the accepted term when she was growing up. Did it feel good? No. But I rolled with it because, my friend stood up for me, and at the end of the day, I didn’t have a lot of interaction with her grandma.

And then there’s the ones that straddle the line between “joking” and negativity. Some of my family have been quick to tell me that “I sound White”, or “like a Valley Girl”, or that they’d be “surprised if I came home with a Black boyfriend” rather than a White guy. The open surprise when I meet someone in a professional setting who’s only spoken to me on the phone. These are often the ones that dig in the most, take root, and sometimes make me question myself. Am I good enough, am I Black enough, am I running the risk of falling into the trap of not relating enough to the folks who look like me. Am I fighting so hard against being the “angry Black woman” stereotype, that I’m not admitting when I ‘m upset or when my needs aren’t being met in a professional or school setting. Spoiler alert, I am.

I was maybe four or five when I turned to my Mom and told her that I wanted to be White.  When she was rightfully concerned and asked why, I told her that I wanted to be a Mouseketeer, and there weren’t any Black ones.  This is why representation matters, and why the “you sound Black/Act White”  conversations are problematic.   Thankfully, Mom made a point to introduce me to Black artists who were not only doing their own thing, but thriving doing so.  She took what was a troubling thing and made it something that I could learn from. 

The ones that have the most (?) dangerous impact are the ones that I want to explore in my thesis. These are the experiences that often puts Black people in danger while they’re just out living their lives. In 2003, I was trailed through the streets of Norfolk, VA. I was walking with two other Black men in hoodies, when a cop slowly trailed us through the empty city streets. It was at that point, that I didn’t know if I was going to be a statistic on the evening news. Or the recent trend of “well meaning” White people who call the cops on Black people who are just existing. Which can (and has) lead to people being arrested and harassed. These people often get off with little to no repercussions, or if anything, they’re shamed and named on social media.

At the end of the day, I realize that my thesis won’t magically change the world. At best, it’ll be an eyeopener that will hopefully lead to conversations.

“Microaggressions: More than Just Race.” Psychology Today. Accessed February 26, 2019.

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