Microaggressions are those small everyday acts and subtle indignities through which the privileged, often without knowing it, make the marginalized feel, well, marginalized. This post looks at those by whites against people of colour in America, though women, gays, poor people and others experience them too.
- “Where are you really from?” – where New Jersey does not count as the right answer because they do not see you as really American (perpetual foreigner stereotype).
- “I don’t see you as black.” – as if being black is some terrible thing they have to overlook (colour-blindness).
- “I understand racism – whites painted swastikas on my house.” – as if American anti-Semitism is pretty much like anti-black racism.
- “It’s not racist, you’re just being oversensitive.” – discounting your thoughts and feelings as if whites are better judges of racism.
- Assuming you are good at sports – or mathematics – because of your race.
- “You’re not like the other blacks” – as if the other blacks are so stereotypical
- Making you feel like you are representing your whole race.
- “You are so articulate/speak such good English!” – as if only whites have a good command of English
- “She’s pretty for a black girl” – as if white girls are prettier than black girls
- Being hypervisible to shopowners, the police, etc.
- Telling a racist joke
- Showing a Confederate flag
The YouTube videos about racism by Reckless Tortuga (pictured above) and Chescaleigh’s video about the stuff white girls say to black girls are full of excellent examples of microaggressions, from purse clutching to hair touching.
In most cases whites do not mean to be racist and, in fact, think they are not being racist at all. But so many are sunk in a racist mindset and blind to it that it comes out in hundreds of little ways like this.
If you try to point it out to them they often get upset, no matter how gently and kindly you tell them. They say that you are being oversensitive, that you have a chip on your shoulder, that you see race in everything, that you are making a big deal out of nothing, etc.
It is because of this kind of stuff that many whites feel like they are walking on eggshells when it comes to blacks. It is like no matter what they say or do it will be seen as racist!
The trouble is not that blacks see racism in everything but that most whites see racism in nothing – except like the Klan and the n-word (and not always even then).
In most cases any one microaggression is not a big deal and people of colour let it go – they have to pick their battles. But it is the constant rain of microaggressions day after day and month after month and year after year that wears away at one’s spirit. It can even affect your physical health. And the most dangerous microaggressions by far are those you do not see as microaggressions.