Prejudice, People of Color, & Microaggressions

As you probably know, February is Black History Month. I always feel so conflicted as a teacher around this time of year because I feel obligated to tell a story that fails to give the entire truth. Sure, MLK Jr. and Rosa Parks were courageous, influential people that made a tremendous impact on bring black voices to the forefront. However, the story we tell our children is one that makes it seems as though it happened in the past and now it's over. We make it seem as though the problem has been solved, the dialogue is no longer relevant, and justice has been served. However, you and I both know how untrue that is. The more that I watch the news, the more fearful I become that our next generation is growing up in a world that demonstrates hate and injustice. It seems so ridiculous to me that even after all this time some people in our country still cannot prioritize character over color or culture. I sincerely hope that one day I live in a country where we see souls instead of bodies. 

I wanted to acknowledge Black History Month with the girls this month but I had to shake it up a bit. Instead of going back into the history books, I brought forth the here & now by discussing what it means to be a person of color in America today. The issues people of color are facing in our country are real and the girls need to know. Now, you may be thinking - What does race have to do with feminism? Well, everything. Both ideologies symbolize otherness - something that separates them from the "normal".  We see it in pop culture, our institutions, and even in our language. Women and people of color have a similar fight. My girls, and myself too, identify with both of those things. It's important to me that my girls know what they're up against so that they can grow into the strong, self-affirmed young women they desire to be. 

The unique and beautiful thing about the demographic at my school is that it is rich in otherness. Most of the students, my girls included, are the product of families coming to America for better opportunities for themselves and their family. There is so much depth and beauty to their story that is something I never experienced where I'm from. I love (and almost envy) the fact that their lives are so wrapped up in culture and tradition. Knowing my girls and their families has softened my heart and given me a wider perspective of just how intricate and amazing our world can be. But because we live in such a diverse city, the girls aren't as aware of "whiteness" as I was growing up. To me, in order to understand what it means to be a person of color, you have to understand what it means to be white as well. The girls and I discussed the history of slavery in America, segregation & the civil rights movement, and how racism plays out in both obvious and subtle manners. 

Racism is embedded in our culture in more ways than we realize. I think sometimes we don't acknowledge it because it exists as subtle clues that we just see as normal. Racism isn't always as radical as calling someone the N-word or not hiring someone at a workplace because of the color of their skin. Racism exists as subtly as maintaining a prejudice about a particular group of people. You may never say anything about it, you may never act on your feelings, but the false stereotype exists within our minds. Prejudice doesn't end with race - it spans across all minority groups within gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Prejudice is an opinion about a particular group that is not based on fact. Having an opinion is OKAY. Passing judgement on someone that is different than you is human nature. Many times, having prejudice isn't even our fault because the ideas have been taught to us by our families and communities in which we live. However, what is not okay is continuing to be ignorant to our prejudice without being open to seeking a new perspective. Not knowing our prejudice makes us more likely to say hateful things to people that live a different life than we do. When we're aware of our prejudice, we are much more likely to choose our words wisely and expand our horizons to new people and new experiences. 

This lesson I created for the girls is probably one of my favorites because it's one of those things I wish someone would have told me when I was their age. I needed this lesson so badly as a young girl. Growing up mixed race in a primarily white town was challenging for me. My youngest memory of being aware of my racial difference is when I was 6 years old in first grade. I knew I was different because my friends told me I was. They would ask questions about the texture of my hair or why it was always styled in big braids with balls on the end. Their questions were innocent and didn't mean to hurt me, but their comments sent a hidden message that made me feel like my difference was undesirable. In middle school it developed into things like "you act white" or "you talk white" which again, were merely observations to them but internalized in my mind as You're not black enough. In college, a white male friend of mine said, "You're pretty for a black girl, but I could never date you" which I translated in my head to Black girls normally aren't pretty and you're not good enough. Ugh! It saddens me to rehash those emotions. Those words crippled me and my sense of identity for a very long time. Although none of those people said anything overtly mean to me, their words had a racial undertone that tapped into my insecurities. 

Their words are all examples of microaggression. Microaggression is unintended discrimination based on a stereotype. It's not on purpose and the person that's saying it usually has no idea that they're offending anyone. It's very different than purposeful discrimination because hateful words usually produce an angry response because it's obviously uncalled for and ridiculous. Microaggressions are more hurtful because it validates at pre-exisiting insecurities which can lead to anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem. 

Like I was explaining before, all microaggressions have a hidden meaning. I gave the girls a list of common microagressions and they brainstormed what they really mean. 

I wish someone would have told me about microaggressions when I was younger because it would have given me a better understanding of what was happening. If I was aware of the system of prejudice then I would have known that what they were saying wasn't truth, but an opinion. I wouldn't have allowed their words to penetrate my heart and affect my self esteem. 

Be aware of your privilege, your prejudice, and do whatever you can open your heart to all people. 

"I cannot and will not judge by what by eyes can see. For the skin on a man shall not reveal his true identity." 

1 comment :

  1. This is a really good post. When I have kids one day I will teach them this!