Microaggressions Can Kill You…
A “racial Microaggression” is one of the “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them,” says Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue, PhD. According to Dr. Sue, “These incidents may appear small, banal and trivial, but we’re beginning to find they assail the mental health of recipients.”
It is difficult for people of color to talk about and it is challenging for white people to accept as true, the common experience for people of color whenever the topic of racism (of any kind) is inserted into the conversation. There is an immediate need to deny the experience or to justify it as a misunderstanding or misinterpretation, placing the onus of “proof” on the person of color and excusing out-of-hand the aggressor or perpetrator which doubles down on the initial affront. Even though these so-called microagressions are unintentional or unwittingly inflicted, whites become fiercely defensive when confronted because it assaults their self-image of being progressive, moral, decent human beings.
Most well-intentioned whites do not want to embrace the fact that they may, at an unconscious level, have biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings towards people of color. This type of self-imposed denial and oblivion by well-meaning white folks is what has made the most recent national discourse on racial injustice and disparity within the criminal justice system and the systemic dysfunction within our law enforcement agencies nationwide a difficult one. Many whites find the examples such as the documented videotaped shootings, chokings and beatings of unarmed black and brown males “unbelievable” and unfathomable within the United States of America. According to them, “This is NOT the America that I know.” Of course not—but it is the America that millions of others know and have known for centuries and decades. These denials encapsulate the definition of microagression above.
Some more common examples are— asking a colleague who is of color “How they got the job?” or assuming that a person of Asian descent must not “originally” be from here so “Where are you really from?” or touching the hair of a Black person while simultaneously asking “Can I touch your hair?” are ALL microagressions and a more passive form of racism. It is extremely harmful and sets back the progress made towards equality and equity each and every time it occurs. These seemingly benign and harmless questions, and/or actions, are toxic to both the target of the aggression and to the perpetrator, as well.
Continuing to deny that our nation is far from being a post-racial society whereby we can all just “be human” is killing us. Silence has never been a viable solution to injustice or pain. It only allows us to live in a society where some of us feel better because of the cosmetic changes that have been implemented and make us proud of “how far we’ve come”, while others suffer the deadly consequences of deeply imbedded historic racial disparity, inequity and oppression that de-values life based on the color or your skin.
It is important to bring out into the open the harm these encounters can inflict, and to make what is often invisible visible. Microaggressions are powerful because they are invisible. They can ultimately be a matter of life and death if we continue to deny that our actions and attitudes are discriminatory and simultaneously re-enforcing racism as a systemic practice instead actively engaging in the process of tearing it down.
Up Next Week: #BLACKLIVESMATTER