Think Before You Speak: Microagressions

According to an article in Psychology Today, "Racial microaggressions are the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned White people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated. These messages may be sent verbally ("You speak good English."), nonverbally (clutching one's purse more tightly) or environmentally (symbols like the confederate flag or using American Indian mascots)." Today's society may not be full of people who conciously hate those of a particular race, but it is full of microagressions. Microagressions can be directed at people of any race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation and often are not realized until it is brought to their attention. Psychology Today specifies that microagressions are generated by whites and directed at non-whites, but non-whites can also be guilty of microagressions (most commonly from minority to minority, but also towards your own race). Over time these comments can drastically effect how a person views him/herself and feels about their own identity. Unfortunately, people committing microagressions often brush off the accusation as oversensitivity. Below are 6 examples of microagressions (specifically pertaining to black culture, per my personal experience and a brief explanation of why its offensive. You can see a more diverse sampling of microagressions here).

1. "You don't look black" / "You're pretty for a black girl" / "You're pretty for a dark skinned girl"

All three of these statements are problematic for the same underlying reason: you're saying someone doesn't look like your definition of what black should look like. In the case of the first statement, if you're trying to compliment the person, you're suggesting that there's something positive about not looking black which translates to "looking black is bad." Either way, the underlying statement is that black people must fit a certain image. The second and third statements automatically suggest that blacks are less beautiful, less attractive, and less desirable, which is obviously offensive. These statements imply that it is shocking for a black person to be attractive and also quantify the person's beauty. "For a black/dark-skinned girl" could also imply that outside of that sphere, the person is no longer pretty.

2. "You sound white" / "You act like a white person"

These comment are always given to someone who is acting outside of stereotypical black behavior. Whether its the fact that they speak proper English or that they enjoy opera and classical music, you are pigeonholing both blacks and whites into tiny boxes. Statements such as these continue to perpetuate the sentiment that you can predict a person's personality based on their skin color.

3. "You're not really black though"

By suggesting that someone is "not really black" is not only calling someone an exception to the rule (again, perpetuating that skin color and personality are correlated), but is also condescending. It's often said as though its a compliment, which implies the person speaking doesn't think highly of black people. Imagine, as a girl, someone walked up to you and said "you're not really a girl though." Would you not be offended?
This GIF is of Issa Rae, creator of the
Awkward Black Girl series. I found the GIF here.

4. "How did you get that job?" / "How did you get so many scholarships?"

These questions have roots in the assumption that every black person got where they are due to affirmative action. Are there minority scholarships? Yes. There are also need-based, religious, and academic scholarships. I was asked this infamous question by someone who was barely top 20% in my class, while I was in the top 1%. The suggestion that I couldn't possibly earn those scholarship or be skilled/smart enough to be offered the job is definitely going to make me angry, and when you neglect to ask the white people in the room the same questions, I'm definitely going to know that you are saying blacks can't get the job/scholarship based on their own merit.

5. Touching my hair without asking

This should be self explanatory; I don't know why anyone would think it was ok to just walk up and stick their hand(s) in someone else's hair, particularly if you don't know the person. The general excuse people give for this behavior is curiosity. There are logical solutions to this "curiosity"-- one is short-term and the other is long-term. Short-term, I would suggest you proceed like a civilized person: introduce yourself to the person, offer a compliment on their hair such as "I really like your hair" or "Your hair looks really soft," and then ask for permission. A simple "Would you mind if I felt your hair?" will do wonders to keep you from looking insensitive, as well as, save you from instantaneous wrath. The long term solution is to expose your children to other hair textures--example: buy your daughter a black doll at some point (Asian and Hispanic ones too, while you're at it). Growing up, I was never curious about what my non-black peers' hair felt like. I'm not sure if its because the curiosity excuse is b.s. (pardon the language) or if its because I had white Barbies in addition to my black Barbies and knew what other hair textures felt like. 

6. "I love your straight hair" / "You should straighten your hair"

These are comments white curly girls have to hear as well (#CurlyGirlsUnite), but while it may be annoying to white curly girls, the implication for black curly girls is much different.  Both are being told their natural self is not good enough. The added layer offensive-ness stems from the history of disapproval natural afro-textured hair has received. From being told its unprofessional, unkept, dirty, etc., to the fact that one must have a very large percentage of non-African blood to be born with straight, comments suggesting that afro/curly hair is less than acceptable or less attractive are equivalent to saying blacks are less than acceptable or less attractive because we all have afro/curly hair. NOTE: If someone choses to straighten their hair and you are simple complimenting them, remember to compliment their naturally curly hair as well--this is the difference between a microagression that implies straight hair > curly hair and a thoughtful compliment. 

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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