As a Black woman on a primarily white campus I have faced microaggressions all too often. I personally experienced one on campus, which I did not speak up about because I did not know how. I attended a forum on my campus which gave me the language to call someone out on this corrosive behavior.
Microaggressions are small acts that challenge privilege or power. Some examples:
“Can I touch your hair?” Which says you and your hair are different, so much so that you are now a zoo animal.
“Oh, I didn’t know there were xyz here!” You’re different from the majority or you don’t belong here.
“Good for them for adding some diverse employees.” Which is what I heard last week when I told someone about a new job I have. This says you got that position because you’re black, you couldn’t possibly get it because you are the most qualified applicant.
I just laughed and moved the conversation, but for the rest of the week I was worried that I wasn’t good enough to be in this position! Which is ridiculous, people don’t hire you out of pity (we all wish). But it took a toll on me for one of my friends to say that.
I have always found confrontation difficult. I love stirring the pot and challenging things, but I am always open to being challenged as well. The thing about microaggressions is that the person might be ignorant to the ways in which they have harmed you because it is so small. But such small things have huge impacts on people, especially over time.
This isn’t the first time that someone has said something like this to me and I’m sure it wont be the last. When someone transgresses against you, the best thing for you and for them is to say something. Wait until you can collect yourself and your thoughts and then bring up the micro aggression, whether its a professor, friend or colleague it will make things much better going forward to have a discussion about it.
Professor Tasha Souza, of Boise State University gave a lecture at Simpson where she talked about microggressions and outlined this example “I noticed that you asked Amira where she was from and not Thomas, both of whom you just met. I think that you might be making an assumption about Amira’s nationality based on how he looks and I feel uncomfortable with this assumption. I would like you to rethink your assumptions so that Amira feels just as comfortable here as we do.”
This example works great to help us understand a clear and respectful way to address the transgression. Observe a behavior you don’t like, think about what happened, express your feelings about the situation and then discuss your desired outcome. Practice this before it comes to a scenario when you need to have it perfected.
We cant control others perceptions of us and the microaggressions that we face, but we can control how we deal with them and unfortunately, how we educate the people around us as well.