Today’s Microaggressions

A few days ago I posted about Microaggressions, because I want to learn how to recognize them. Today, the whole country got a nasty example, twice.

Example 1 – After Joe Biden announced that Sen. Kamala Harris was his pick for vice president, the current president called her “nasty” and “disrespectful.” Have you noticed that he tends to accuse his opponents for what are his own worst qualities? And dismiss women? Just saying.

Example 2 – Then on Fox TV, soon after Biden announced his pick, Tucker Carlson mispronounced her name. A white male panelist interrupted to explain that Kamala was pronounced like punctuation, COMMA. Accent on the first syllable: COM-ma-la.

Carlson shrugged off the correction with the comment that it didn’t really matter. He let his disrespect stand against a Democratic woman of color who will be a formidable opponent to the white male incumbent he champions, Mike Pence. “Or whatever,” Carlson said before he changed the subject. I saw this as a clip on another cable news program, not because I watch Carlson or Fox.

I’m looking forward to the Oct. 7 vice-presidential debate, when we’ll all get to see the bi-racial former prosecutor, attorney general, and current US Senator Kamala Harris demolish the white guy.

What are Microaggressions?

Microaggressions are exchanges that are subtle, stunning, often automatic, verbal and nonverbal. They are put-downs, often denied or excused as unintentional. They reveal conscious and unconscious racial bias by whites against BIPOC. They are unwelcome, unkind, often cruel.

Psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce created the term in the 1970s. “Micro” means they are frequent, not that they have no impact.

What is the impact?

The effect, on Black women professionals for example, is “like a thousand paper cuts,” one internal medicine doctor said. Other Black medical professionals agree, the consistent put-downs by colleagues as well as patients begin to affect their confidence and increase their self-doubt.

  • A white male doctor assumes that a Black female doctor is a technician, or has come to take out the trash.
  • A white male patient can’t remember the name of his Black female doctor, but always remembers his male white doctor’s name.
  • White colleagues question a Black doctor’s diagnosis or treatment.

What causes microaggressions?

Conscious and unconscious racial bias by white people. The white supremacy permeating our society continues to make white assumptions and bias “normal,” and BIPOC sensibilities of less importance, or invisible to many whites.

Is there anything similar that white people experience?

I don’t think so. Not based on other people’s bias against people with white skin.

The closest thing may be when someone white looks visibly “different” from most other whites – like having a distinct physical appearance or accent or some type of disability.

A slighter version of this has happened to me most of my life. I’ve been 6 feet tall since I was 10 years old, a head taller than all my peers for years. A lot of kids, and adults too, felt free to point this out to me. “How tall are you?” This unwelcome reaction communicated to me that tall was odd and bad, shorter was good and normal. To take back my right to be 6 feet tall and proud of it, I first stopped answering the question. Then I started saying, “One hundred and eighty-two point eight centimeters,” because most people had no clue how many feet and inches that was. They usually laughed awkwardly, maybe for a fraction of a second realizing it was none of their business, or unkind to have asked me. Or maybe not. Of course my experience was nothing like BIPOC lived experiences of repeated microaggressions from any direction.

Sources include “For Doctors of Color, Microaggressions Are All Too Familiar,” by Emma Goldberg, The New York Times, Aug. 11, 2020.

“I’m not racist.” Untrue.

Racists, I always thought, are the bad white people who shout nasty expletives and are filled with hate toward anyone of color, anyone not white. Since I’m a good white person, I can’t possibly be racist, I believed.

Untrue.

I’m a white woman of a certain age who grew up in middle class America in virtually all-white communities and schools. My lived experience included many lessons about race. Some of the lessons were subtle and some were direct. Some were played out on a national level. The repeated lessons had one common message: white people are superior to BIPOC.

The other insidious lesson was witnessing white people treat BIPOC any way they wanted to, with few repercussions or penalties. As if, somehow, non-whites deserved it for being inferior. I witnessed this when I lived in the east, in the midwest, and on the west coast. I witnessed this in Alaska, where indigenous Native Alaskan Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos were the predominant BIPOC.

Consciously and unconsciously, decades of this message have lasting effects on me and my behavior. White values, styles, priorities, manners, etc. are embedded deeply in me as what’s “normal,” and anything that’s different is not as good, “not normal.” One example is my thin tolerance for dialects and variations of standard English, being a writer who has studied and strives to follow all the “rules” of English grammar.

I’m working on how to unlearn these damaging lessons, on how to be anti-racist. Being judgmental and intolerant is the wrong burden to carry now, for any of us.

For more, read “White Supremacy and Me,” by Layla Saad, and watch YouTube videos by Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility.”

Me & White Supremacy

by Layla F. Saad

A book challenging white people to reflect on our personal relationship and benefits from living in a system of white privilege and supremacy.

White exceptionalism is the belief that I am a “good” white person who doesn’t have any racial bias and doesn’t take advantage of white privilege or the benefits of being white in a white supremacist society.

The aim of this work is truth… If you believe you are exceptional, you will not do the work. If you do not do the work, you will continue to do harm, even if that is not your intention. You are not an exceptional white person, meaning you are not exempt from the condition of white supremacy, from the benefits of white privilege, and from the responsibility to keep doing this work for the rest of your life.

Race & Biology

No single characteristic, trait or gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called “race” from all the other members of another so-called “race.” Only 1 of every 1,000 of the nucleotides that make up our DNA differ one human from another. As a species, human beings are more genetically similar than any other species. Race isn’t biological.

The genes of skin color have nothing to do with genes for other human qualities: hair, eye shape, blood types, musical talent, athletic ability, or intelligence. Knowing someone’s skin color doesn’t tell you anything else about them but the color of their skin.

The English word “race” turns up for the first time in a 1508 poem by William Dunbar, referring to a line of kings.

These details are from 2 articles I read, one in NYT and another online source. I need to keep these details for future reference.