Dreaming of My Blunt Response to Subtle Racism

Today, I read an interesting article on Romper.com by a woman named Margaret E. Jacobson called “I Recorded the Racist Things People Said & Did to Me for 2 Weeks”.  During this two-week period, Margaret would tackle, head on, the daily micro-aggressions that white people aim at her.  A micro-aggression is a term used to describe subtle discrimination against another individual, particularly a minority, in the form of a clever comment or observation.  For example, when a white person comments on how shocked they are at your eloquence, or asks how you are able to afford an item when you make a big-ticket purchase, you can be certain that you have just been a victim of a micro-aggression.  I love how Margaret describes the term in her article as “racism, tucked right beneath the surface.”

For 14 days, Margaret’s experiment was to respond to micro-aggressions in the exact way they were aimed at her.  If someone touched her hair and commented that they didn’t expect it to be so soft, Margaret would, in turn, touch their hair and comment on the stringiness or oily texture.  It’s needless to say that by using this technique, Margaret was drained by the end of the experiment.  As I read her narrative, I wanted to shout, “You’re doing it wrong!”.  She speaks of her experience below:

“I don’t think it’s OK to speak to anyone in a way that’s demeaning, no matter what their race is, and the fact that I was just doing what had been done to me hung heavy on my heart. If I’m honest, I think that I’ll just go back to ignoring the things that people say and the way their words make me feel. It’s how I know to protect myself.”

I was so disappointed by the end of the article.  I really wanted Margaret to be more sagacious and assertive with her retorts instead of taking the passive-aggressive route; I wanted to celebrate a victory with her.  Instead, we both felt defeated by the time I’d reached the bottom of the page.  The results of Margaret’s experiment left me feeling so unfulfilled that I will attempt to conduct the same experiment over a 30-day period, but I will have to modify it a little.  Margaret’s experiment had no measurable results.  It seemed that her only goal was to gain the personal satisfaction of making white people equally as uncomfortable as they made her, which is great; but how does one measure that discomfort to determine the success of the experiment?

I’m going to alter Margaret’s experiment and call it a “quest”—a quest to educate people on “coming correct” when they speak to me and those who look like me.  There are times that I absolutely detest the efforts of some to educate whites on interacting with Black people because it excuses their racism for lack of knowledge and displaces the responsibility, shifting it from the oppressor to the oppressed.  Nonetheless, I feel that education, or at least a response, is necessary in this situation because I excuse and ignore these micro-aggressions more often than not, instead of opening up a dialogue and correcting my antagonists.  I usually encounter micro-aggressiveness at work, an environment where I constantly have to check and correct myself in order to keep my job, and I’m still grappling with whether this is conducive to my Blackness—it’s probably not.

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My mom once told me about an experience she had in Florida.  This story isn’t a solid example of a micro-aggressive comment, but her response made me chuckle.  We lived in central Florida in the early 90s, Seminole County to be exact—the place where Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, was hunted and killed by a grown man who was found “not guilty” of the crime.  Anyway she worked at a Social Security Administration field office and a customer told her that the “other colored girl” had assisted him the last time he visited the office.  She replied, “And what color would that be?”  Whatever term one would use to describe the tone of my mom’s response is what I want to use while on my one-month quest to respond to micro-aggressions, right before I correct and educate a person on why they should never, ever say [insert stupid, subtly racist comment here] to me or any Black person again.

Overall, I’m excited, as was Margaret, to embark upon this journey.  I would like to feel more empowered when interacting with ignorance sprinkled with racism instead of shutting down in order to keep my short, explosive temper at bay.  I am more than capable of handling micro-aggressions with a shrewd response, and should give myself more credit and a chance to do so.  So, here goes nothing!  I will set out to conquer and educate these small-minded racists once and for all, and will be sure to share all the juicy details in an upcoming post.  Get your lemonade ready!

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