Racial Microaggressions

September 14, 2011


Dr. Hollins and I are doing a short presentation based on the work of Derald Wing Sue on Racial Microaggressions tomorrow morning (for examples of many types of microaggressions check this out). We’re starting by sharing our Where I’m From poems, and speaking to how our different experiences shape the way we interpret events and interactions. Some interactions trigger us or become a “hot button” as they repeatedly happen to us, those we love, or those with whom we share a group identity. These triggers are related to a history and current context that reinforces privilege and oppression.


For example, if someone refers to me as a “girl” I can hear my mother’s voice saying, “I’m not a girl, I’m a woman,” can hear the kids in elementary school taunting, “Earl is a girrrul,” (sexism as a weapon of homophobia) and think about the times women’s voices have been dismissed as childish. When I react to that comment, I’m reacting to more than just one person saying one thing. I’m reacting to the history of the term combined with any sexism I’ve recently experienced.


When we present on racial microaggressions, we want people to understand that this is not about memorizing a list of what you should or shouldn’t say. It is not about being “politically correct”–which is actually one of my hot buttons. It is about growing our understanding of the patterns and context of what we might otherwise see as individual behaviors. It is about recognizing how our individual behaviors and relationships contribute to institutional racism and white privilege.


Even using the term “hot button” can be problematic (although it is catchy for our buttons). It implies that the person reacting to the microaggression is the one who has the issue, rather than the person who said it or the system of racial oppression that is really the issue. I like to refer to this as the “racism gets your goat” perspective, the microinvalidation that you’re overreacting to something minor.


Tomorrow we’ll ask people to share their triggers or hot buttons. What are yours? We’ll also ask them to be brave and share when they’ve said or done something that was a microaggression. Can you think of a time when you committed a microaggression? What did you learn from that experience?

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