“Dear White People…” On Fighting Microaggressions

I clearly remember my first day of college. I looked forward to the lectures ahead, where my brain would be stretched and molded into all sorts of lengths and shapes.  It was going to be painted in different streaks and hues of paints-I was sure of it.

I walk into class and find that I am the only not only one of five women in the class but also the only person of color.  I remember some of my fellow classmates looking at me like I was some new exotic creature.  Notice the almond eyes that disappear when this creature smiles. Quite a phenomenon. But what really topped the icing on that cake was this:

My professor was reading aloud the names on her attendance list.
“Susie.”
“Here.”
Pause. Another look up and down.
“Susie…what a cute English name you picked out for yourself!”
“………..”

Ah, microaggression at its finest.  I remember years ago sitting alone with these odd feelings and writing in my journal, scribbling away about my disappointment and anger of this professor’s ignorance.

Recently though, there’s been a surge in minorities being able to share the racial microaggression face on their own campuses.  For example, the “I, Too, Am Harvard,” campaign and the Fordham student who also did her own project on campus.  I could laugh at each one in agreement saying, “Girl, I feel ya.”

It’s awesome. FINALLY.  My colored brothers, sisters, and I can finally voice all that has been suppressed since God knows when.  I love that we do.  Social media has become such a huge platform for all of us to speak freely and express our anger about how we are ostracized in little yet stinging ways.

At the same time, it has made us all “stuck.”  We, the social media generation, have hundreds of new hashtags and articles trending everyday, expressing how angry we are at this world.  Yet, I’m pretty sure that a large percentage of us are just tweeting these things rather than doing something about it.  We’re stuck.  We’re angry and don’t know what to do with it. So then we think about how we can fix the problem. Then get angry that we can’t. Stuck again. And the cycle goes on…

I am apprehensive though that people are now going to be afraid to ever say anything about culture or race out of fear that they will be called ignorant or a racist.  There needs to be a safe way though for not just white people but anyone to be able to express their curiosity about cultures, without them being labeled as ignorant or racist.  That shouldn’t be the case.  We have the power to educate them.

To be fair, it’s not their fault they really don’t know. I mean that’s why they are ignorant.  If I lived in a remote island all my life with 500 clones of myself and then met a white person, I would have tons of questions too.  The only way to fight ignorance is by educating.  Yes, we get annoyed and angry because for the 500th time, someone just asked me if Chinese and Korean are pretty much the same.  But I’ve learned not to get annoyed and give a sharp, “No.” Use it as a time for learning.

We have the power to educate.  “No, for me trying to read Chinese would be like you trying to read Arabic.  Our foods are completely different and our cultures are surprisingly pretty different.”

Being angry is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be fueled to work at something. Instead of destroying relationships, it can build them.  We can use that anger to fight racism by being angry at ignorance and not necessarily the person.  We’re better than our anger and frustrations.

We complain about how the world has gone to crap.  And it’s not just politicians and economists who can do something.  We can too with little fights like these. Do you remember a time, when you might have blown off somebody over an ignorant comment? What could have been done better?

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