Life Lessons from Experiencing Microaggressions
If you’re a person with any marginalized identity (such as female, Black, disabled, poor, non-resident, etc.), you’ve likely experienced a microaggression. A microaggression is defined as “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.” Victims suffer long-term effects similar to getting multiple mosquito bites daily, when receiving frequent comments like, “Oh, I didn’t even recognize you,” to the Black girl in the office after she changes her hair, or “No, where are you REALLY from?” to the “ethnic-looking” person in the meeting. Hearing these remarks once in a while might not be a big deal, but if you’re repeatedly bombarded with comments about your identity, these bites can take a toll on your mental and physical health. On this week’s episode, “Pick a Side,” I discuss some of the microaggressive comments that I have experienced which caused real trauma, including how angry and upset I’ve felt in the aftermath. I don’t have all the answers but here are some life lessons I’ve learned from managing microaggressive behaviors.
It will always catch you off guard.
I’ve been living in my body for 30 plus years so you would think that racist, sexist, and ableist comments wouldn’t phase me. I mean, I was called a N*gger by a 3rd grade classmates so you’d assume I’ve heard it all. However, when a colleague very casually ran her fingers through my hair and commented that she didn’t recognize me, it completely caught me off guard. I was speechless, literally stuck. I couldn’t believe her audacity. The power she took from me by touching me without my permission was overwhelming and caught me totally off guard. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by racism, but often, I still am.
It’s OK to be stuck.
Because microaggressions are often indirect or subtle, you might not catch them when they are initially stated, or you may catch them and not be sure how to respond. I mean, how should you respond when a white woman says, “I wish I could get my skin as dark as yours at my tanning place,” or when your “friend” asks, “Why do you live on the ghetto side of town?” Not immediately responding with a, “Bish, WHAT,” is OK. Honestly, it’s probably best because, remember—your rent is still due on the first, and dealing with a microaggression and an assault charge is no fun.
You don’t have to be the teacher.
By trade, I’m an educator. I love teaching and telling; it’s what I’m good at. However, I refuse to teach someone to respect my humanity, and you can refuse too. I’m learning that it’s OK to be willing to engage ONLY those people who already have the basic awareness that it’s not OK to say, “Oh, you talk white,” or who assume that I can help them “sort through who's better--Nikki or Cardi” because I’m a Black girl. I don’t have the answers, Sway, and the lack of representation of people who look like me in your life, doesn’t mean that I am going to be your guide to Black culture. You don’t get to insult me and then expect me to help you learn how not to look like the fool, while you continuously insult others.
I’m still reeling from the after-effects of the mosquito bite microaggressions that I’ve dealt with recently. I’m pretty sure these bites were carrying diseases. I’m not sure exactly how to cope with someone who violated me in the way that felt so dehumanizing, but I hope the lessons I shared might help you navigate future attacks, or at least, may be some healing bug spray.