You’re in a big meeting at a client site. You’ve never been there before. The meeting is hot into discussion, and your boss turns to you and says, “Can you go print out the Acme Report for last quarter? Get copies for everyone. I think we need that to make this decision.”
It’s not your office; it’s the client’s office. Your team just flew in for the day. But you’re the kind of person who makes it happen when your boss asks for something. So you drag the file to a jump drive, then hop up and race out of the conference room and see if you can track down someone to help you out.
Luckily you run into a woman in the hallway and you say, “Oh hi, can you give me a hand? I’m in the Dursley meeting.” You jab your thumb over your shoulder in the direction of the conference room you just exited. “I have this file that we need. Would you be able to print it and make 10 copies for us?” You offer her the jump drive and a big smile.
She gives you a funny look, but she takes it. “Sure, I can get someone to do that,” and she turns and walks away.
“We need it right away,” you call after her. “No problem,” she calls back, and disappears around the corner.
You go back into the meeting. Your boss looks at you, and you nod. Under control, you think, hoping she realizes how important it is. About ten minutes later, some dude walks in and holds a stack of copies up in the air with a question on his face. You go grab them from him.
“These for you?” he asks in a whisper.
“Yeah,” you whisper back. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, sorry it took me a minute. My boss said you needed them fast.”
(You can probably see where this is going…)
Another example is something called deadnaming. If you knew a trans person pre-transition, then you probably know their deadname. The deadname is the birth name, the name that represents the gender they were assigned, but that doesn’t represent the identity that is really them. When someone transitions, it can be very difficult for those who know them to remember to use the person’s chosen name — and some people refuse to do so. If someone in your life has informed you that they now have a new name, the correct thing for you to do is to accept it. To call them the wrong name is careless, disrespectful, rejecting, and completely disempowering. You are denying the person’s reality, and it is harmful. Same goes for misgendering, which is referring to a trans person by the wrong gender.
All of the things we’re talking about today are examples of microagression .
Along with the discussion of race, power, and privilege, a very real-world conversation that affects all of us needs to happen around this.
Microaggressions seem innocent, and usually, the person committing them is wholly unaware of what they have done. That doesn’t mean that they are victimless crimes. Those who occupy any minority position in a culture are on the receiving end of microaggressions pretty much all the time. The constant onslaught of these microaggressions results in very real symptoms of mental distress.
Most Whites and others in positions of power who hold privilege and status do not easily identify with or acknowledge any internalized racism that they may harbor inside. Most people think of “racists” as only those who engage in out-and-out racist behavior, like using a racial slur or actively discriminating against others based on skin tone or sex.
Once awareness is offered, though, and if the person is willing to self-examine and look, those in the majority often realize that they have committed microaggressions on a regular basis throughout their life.
It might be something seemingly innocuous like laughing when you’re introduced to someone who has a name that is unusual to you, and saying to them, “Oh that’s a really weird name! How do you say it again? Dang, I’ll never be able to remember that!”
It’s assuming that the Black woman is the administrative assistant, without even considering that maybe she’s the Executive VP.
It’s referring to a neighborhood that’s mostly non-white as “the rough part of town” or “the bad side of the tracks.”
It’s the common ways that majority culture trains those with privilege to think without thinking.
It requires becoming educated, and being willing to look at our own behavior, and to monitor it, and intercept it and correct it when we slip up.
Changing the way the world works means each of us changing ourselves. Nurturing an awareness of things like microaggressions requires a willingness to change. Hopefully that’s something you have and are interested in. If you’re one of the many White people who are currently looking around going, “Wow. This has been really bad for a really long time. I feel guilty. I want to be better than this.” And you’re then stuck on what “being better” means, and you feel helpless, and maybe frustrated, and you don’t know what to do with the emotions… Well, this type of self-examination is a good first step. It’s likely uncomfortable (if it’s not, you’re probably not doing it right). It can absolutely be painful, and that’s OK. Feeling bad about what you’ve done in the past out of ignorance is OK. It’s not OK to keep being ignorant, and crimes committed due to ignorance are still crimes. We’re not excusing that. We are saying, feeling guilty about what you’ve done, now that you realize it? That’s fully appropriate to the moment.
If you now see how you acted out of ignorance before, you’re likely feeling pretty shitty about it. Recognizing you may have hurt others is no fun. Be willing to look at it, and own up to it. You and many other people are trying to face this right now.
The biggest risk? That we move on from this too quickly. That we have some uprisings and protests, and culture pretending to get woke, and then it all falls by the wayside when some other new drama inflicts us and distracts us. (Like, OMFG, if there were an international terrorist attack on U.S. soil right now? O.M.F.G. Who knows what would happen.)
The biggest risk is that we don’t stay feeling bad about our role in racism long enough, and we let ourselves off the hook. We can’t let that happen, either individually or as a society.
And oh yeah, White person, if you’re feeling bad: Please don’t go running to your one Black acquaintance wanting to talk to them about you feeling bad, with a bunch of apologies and shit. Just be willing to feel bad. Sit with it. Deal with it. Understand it. Let it motivate you.
Be willing to change.
Have you committed a microaggression — something you did unknowingly, and later realized “Ugh no, I screwed that one up”? Been on the receiving end of one? Or, does all of this talk about race and equality on the blahg get tiring for you? We’d love to hear your experiences.