How to not be racist: Chapter 2
Microaggressions: Compliments and Comments
Microaggressions, also known as the shit white people have been doing for years but until recently, we never had a name for it!
Microaggressions are not an exaggeration of liberal feelings.
They are an insidious and pervasive part of American culture that repeatedly denigrate the efforts and strides of people of color and women toward equity.
Columbia University professor Derald Wing Sue coined the term microaggression to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
Common examples of some microaggressions:
1. “You’re so articulate.”
Saying this to a person of color is particularly demeaning. Calling someone articulate can be a nod toward racist ideas that a Black person is exceptional for being well-spoken, whereas it is expected and normal for white people to be.
2. “No, where are you really from?”
It’s rude to assume someone isn’t from where they tell you they’re from just because they don’t look like you.
3. “Your name is impossible to pronounce!”
A wealth of research suggests that people with difficult-to-pronounce names have a harder time finding work and are considered less likable. When you ask someone their name, don’t judge it. Try to learn it. You can say Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Maybe you should try unpacking your white supremacy instead of enforcing it on other people.
4. “Wow, is that your real hair?” / “You mean you don’t wash your hair every day?”/ “So do you take those out at night? ”/ “Like how do you wash your hair?”
Not that it’s any of your business, but we can go various amounts of time without washing our hair because not all of us get greasy and nasty.
Asking people of color if their hair is real is intrusive and rude. This is especially rude because there’s a long history of oppressing women of color in public spaces like schools and offices for wearing their hair naturally.
5. “Why do you wear that (insert item)?”
Damn, Becky! Mind your own damn business! Please be mindful of your comments. Nobody likes to be perceived as weird, exotic or strange. Never ask someone why they wear something — whether it’s a hijab or hair extensions. Let them live.
18. “I don’t want to sound racist/homophobic/sexist but …”
You probably sound racist/homophobic/sexist. If you have to preface a statement with saying you don’t want to sound a certain way, it’s probably because you’re about to sound that way.
19. “Not to make it a race/gay/gender thing but …”
20. “I went to the beach the entire weekend and look, I’m almost as dark as you!”
What is the purpose of saying this? Why are you using your perceived darkness as a lighthearted comment to compare to your whiteness? Newsflash, you can’t wash my Black off. It’s different.
21. “You’re different, not like them, the other ones …”
This is not a compliment. I am not ashamed of my race, and there is nothing of which to be ashamed for identifying with one race or another. There are good and bad people of all races.
22. “You all” / “You go, girl” / “Yo,” “Word” and “What Up” as an introduction whenever you’re greeting your Black peers / saying phrases that end with the term “girlfriend” when you’re not referencing a woman you’re dating
Stop with the foolishness. Do not try to use African-American Vernacular English as comedic relief.
It’s not your culture, stop saying that shit. I don’t over exaggerate my code switching/white accent when I’m talking to you.
23. “All Lives Matter – not just Black people.”
Saying All Lives Matter is like saying all diseases matter at a breast cancer rally.
24. Any phrase starting with “So, do Black people …”
All Black people do not do the same things.
25. “I have a white coworker who dates Black men. She and her boyfriend at the time were having issues. So, she was venting to me about him and called him a nigger. Nigger this. Nigger that. After regaining my composure, I asked her why she think it’s OK to say nigger in my presence. She replied that she should get a pass because she acts Black, dates Black and considers herself Black.”
26. “I want you to be nice today… not sassy.”
Stereotyping Black women as sassy is bad. It is damaging to Black women, and can even lead Black women to have health issues, despite them telling the truth.
27. “You have to understand Trump.”
The hell I do. “My African-American over here”? “Shithole countries”?
28. “You’re the prettiest black girl I’ve ever seen.”
Why saying “pretty” for a Black girl is wrong:
29. “You should join our company basketball team.” (They’ve never seen you play.)
Not all Black people play basketball. Stereotyping is wrong.
30. “Are you real Black?” “Are both of your parents Black?”
For the record, most Black people in America are mixed with something.
Because of the slavery, the rape of slave women was not uncommon.
Cultural appropriation isn’t a fuzzy line.
It isn’t hard to discern. It’s quite simple.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.
- White people who go to all white fraternity parties and play all Black music.
- White people adopting AAVE to sound funny or “urban” (also known as Ebonics).
- White people wearing dreadlocks.
- White people wearing mockery of a traditional cultural dress without expressed permission or cultural exchange from a member of that culture.
- White people profiting off of culture without a meaningful exchange and understanding of privilege and power.
Hey, Karen. I Just wanted you to know you might want to change your Halloween costume from Pocahontas to basic bitch.
Please stop doing problematic things.
It’s annoying and I’m tired of writing articles about it.
Cultural appropriation turns cultural elements into a costume.
It often goes unchecked in beauty. Culture is erased and belittled. The repackaging of products as "cool" or "trendy" marginalizes those whose culture to which they belong. Think of Kylie Jenner's "birthday braids" making headlines, even though they're the same cornrows that have been worn by Black women for ages.
Or the idea of laying baby hairs, even though it’s been a staple of Black hairdos for ages. Or the use of bindis as a “trendy” culture. Or the adoption of Tibetan Buddhism by mainstream, middle class Han Chinese folk to seem cool. Or the trend of the large beauty supply earrings for $2 that were sold in H&M for $20. This trend is nefarious when the cultural appropriation is used for profit, which is why it may soon become illegal.
A LIST OF THINGS NOT TO DO:
Blackface and a short history
Ah, blackface. Old buddy, old pal.
We haven’t seen you in a while …
Oh, wait. That was last year.
Blackface is wrong.
It’s not funny. It’s not cool. It’s not quirky.
It’s just racist.
From minstrel shows, to golliwogs, to scientific racism –
Blackface is used to make fun of and demean Black people.
Just don’t do it. It’s not that hard.
RESOURCES ON MICROAGGRESSIONS, HALLOWEEN, & BLACKFACE:
Sue, Derald Wing (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley. pp. 37–39.