By Jazmyn Matthews
Racism. I mean is there any topic that’s more relevant today? The events in Missouri, the killings of unarmed POC, and even more local, the temporary closing of General Beauregard’s downtown. Even though I’m doubtful that racism will ever be a thing that’s completely destroyed, it’s worth a shot to try. To fix any problem, the root of it, or at least as close as you can get, must be determined. That’s where micro-aggressions come in.
Micro-aggressions are defined as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” according to Psychology Today.
We’re aware of them, but we don’t really pay much attention to them. Anyone that’s been in a Psychology class has heard of micro-aggressions, but even that’s not enough for us to try and lessen how many of these come out of our mouths. One thing we need to first discover is what some examples of micro-aggressions are:
“What are you?” Out of context, it seems exactly like the rude comment it is. If you’re addressing this question to a human being, no one would think twice about calling you out for making such a comment. But, when told that the person being addressed is bi-racial, it’s a sad fact that makes a little more sense.
You’re a combination of races, and I want to know what they are, so I’m going to ask you in the most offensive way that I can think of.
Not “What are you mixed with?” or even “What ethnicities are your parents?” When the question is asked, it’s not meant to come off as offensive. I don’t think anyone asks that question with the intention of sounding blatantly ignorant and making someone feel as if they aren’t a human being. But, that’s what happens. I’m guilty of it myself. We all are, and we seem to just overlook it and not give it much thought.
It starts off as just harmless fun, a comment here and there between you and friends. The comment isn’t offensive because it’s said to someone that you know, someone that you respect. They know that you don’t mean it and vice versa, so there’s nothing wrong with it.
Suddenly, one comment turns into two and before you know it, you’re all making “comments” to your friends and no one is realizing all the hurt that they can cause.
An easier way to think of these micro-aggressions is to think of what I like to call ‘positive stereotypes’. The word ‘stereotype’ automatically has a negative connotation. No one wants to be stereotyped, so it’s difficult to think of anything that might be considered positive. But, if you think about it, you can think of a few “positive” ones.
“You’re Asian, so you must be smart.” “I thought all black people could dance.” “You’re white, so you must have money.” At first glance, one would think that it’s a thinly veiled compliment. But, it’s not a compliment at all. Even though it’s not negative when left by itself, when paired with an assumption about a single race, it’s negative and offensive.
What if that is the case? Even though high intelligence is a stereotype about Asian people, if the person you’re speaking to isn’t all that smart, not a great dancer, or not wealthy, how is your comment supposed to make them feel? Like they aren’t a part of their race? Like they’re somehow inferior?
One thing that would help according to Kaitlin Boyle, a professor in the Sociology department at the University of Georgia, is talking about it.
“We need a nationwide conversation,” she says. “It can’t just be Black Americans talking about it.”
As a professor that discusses it in her classes, it’s not uncomfortable to talk about. But, that’s not the case with everyone. It’s not a secret that race is rough to talk about with a lot of people. It’s still something that we’re shying away from.
“I’m surrounded by people that are constantly talking about it,” Boyle says.
It becomes a topic when something happens like the Black Lives Matter movement after the many shootings that have happened or the senseless massacre of the church in South Carolina.
The sad thing is that many people like to give it so much attention when it’s relevant and new. But, the first day that it’s no longer a trending topic on Twitter, we tend to forget about it. It’s not necessarily done on purpose. I don’t think we choose to pay attention to the big issues for a little bit only to slowly forget about them later as they fizz out.
But, that’s what happens. It seems the next part of the solution isn’t just talking about it, but to remain talking about it. We have to start making it relevant all the time and not just for the moment.
I definitely feel we are all doing better when it comes to discussing the topic of race, but there are still some people that would much rather ignore it than to bring it to attention. With things like micro-aggressions and thinly veiled racism so prevalent, we really have no choice but to start talking about it.
It starts with us.