Microaggressions. What are they? They're that raw, gnawing feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when someone laughs at your having to take Spanish classes despite being latinx. Or when you someone touches your hair to see if it's real. Or when someone slaps your butt to see if its real. Or when they slap your butt and say 'Arriba' to acknowledge your heritage but also indicate that they're 'cool with it.' Or when they say "wow I didn't think you were latina? You're so quiet!" as a compliment. Or when your latino family jokes that you 'sound white'. All of these are microaggression instigators.
Textbook definition: "Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership " (UCLA)
Do the people that spur the microaggression mean to cause them? Usually they don't. Usually these kinds of vaguely racist thoughts are normal, if not acceptable to them. The popular game Cards Against Humanity is a perfect example of potential microaggression triggers. But it's funny right? Because it's a game? I'm not so sure anymore.
So why am I talking about this now? For the past week, I've been experiencing more of these events than I have in a while. That's not to say that I don't have a microaggression a day, but recently they've felt more hurtful and angering. I realize that diving head-on into my identity exploration has caused me to be more aware of who I am and how I fit in my world. I also realize that this exploration and awareness might make me more susceptible to these events. Is it fair? I'm not sure.
Two events have been coming up in one way or another the past month or so. I won't mention names explicitly but call them Person A and Person B.
Event 1: In a conversation with Person B, they told me they left a class because their professor was showing a clip of Kara Walker explaining her work. Person B stated that they did not like her work. I asked why. They said it's complicated. Person A overheard and said they "fucking hate Kara Walker" because she is a "pretentious bitch" who needs to recognize her privilege and has no right talking about race. I was taken aback and thought surely they're joking? Nope. I stated that I could maybe be more convinced if there was more explanation for their views sans the anger, but I didn't' think that privilege excluded someone of a particular race from engaging in conversation about their race. The conversation went nowhere. Lots of mansplaining later, Person A and Person B agreed that they would like to see Kara Walker "beat up" by the black female facilities woman that they both love and view as the epitome of the black struggle. I honestly felt so grossed out by the entire conversation that I couldn't bring myself to argue more.
Even 2: Event 1 was discussed one-on-one with Person A to which there were minor 'wins' on my side and some sarcastic apologies on their's. Event 2 happened after a student asked what shows I was into lately. I told them that I actually have been watching Jane the Virgin. They laughed and I said "Hear me out! It sounds silly at first, but it's all based on Telenovelas and is actually more humorous than serious. It's also kind of exciting because it has a pretty strong Latino cast and isn't extremely stereotyped. It isn't perfect, but it sure as hell is better than the 'work' Modern Family is doing for my culture." We had a nice intelligent conversation about it and they said they would watch it. Person A walked in and joked about how stupid he thought the show was. I repeated my argument and told him to give it a try. A week later he came back and said he watched one episode and had some opinions. His opinions were as follows: She's too 'white.' The basis being that she, Jane, would never take her child to Yoga as a latina. She talks 'white.' Because her latin accent isn't strong enough. There were no moments where he felt anyone screamed "Latinoness." I laughed and joked back saying well you basically summed up my whole life. He compared it to the Cosby show and the white-washing of black culture. I told him I could see his point, and attempted to look past the unnecessary stereotyping but he proceeded to say that he felt like the show was written by a Jewish person and that it just didn't quite hit any Latin notes for him. He said "I don't buy it. Are you telling me that latinos will see this and relate to this 'white girl' taking her baby to 'yoga.'" I told him I agree that it could sometimes be a bit white washed, but it's unfair to assume that yoga, an eastern tradition, is a 'white' thing to do. I emphasized that I didn't think it was perfect, but that I appreciated that there was show about a Latino family that wasn't solely about immigration (though it does come up), isn't using latin females as sex objects, and, doesn't make jokes of accents. He laughed my points off and the conversation continued to disintegrate. He insinuated that I was being too sensitive, that I should 'try being black,' and that everyone is bound to be stereotyped at some point. Lot's of this conversation was veiled in attempts at humor and rather vapid apologies. If the person that said these things ever reads this: I'm sure you think that I'm overreacting. I'm sure you think what you said wasn't meant to be read the way I read it and you weren't being "racist," but I honestly don't care.
Microaggressions exist because the person feeling the rage, anger, and contempt at whatever supposedly innocuous statement another person has made feels stuck. We can't sound too angry for fear that we might make the other person, who probably didn't mean to be offensive, feel bad. Then we're left with the responsibility of educating and consoling. But who consoles us? We're hurt more by statements and judgements passed off as "it meant nothing." Why? Because they think it means nothing. It erases our experience and invalidates our anger.
So think before you speak and don't pass things off as being "too politically correct." Because that's NOT a thing and don't get me started on how infuriating that little statement alone has been lately.
To sort of remedy all of this I've decided to keep a micro-book of my microaggressions. As a way of documenting and self-healing. I'll post more about it as it fills up.
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