As our country and hopefully, you as individuals begin to grapple with systemic racism and the reality of our country, you have to reevaluate how you individually treat people around you. This starts not only by adjusting your mindset but with ending microaggressions. In this movement for equality, it’s not enough to work from the top to the bottom because let’s be real, that will take time. However, putting a stop to microaggressions is a great way that equality can begin to thrive in our own communities. So, where to start, right?
Microaggressions are thoughts and actions that imitate ideas that equate black people as inferior to their white counterparts but may not sound flat out racist at first glance. Phrases like “I mean, you’re not black like that,” “you’re pretty for a black girl,” or my personal favorite, “you act/talk so white.” Many people may not necessarily feel as if what they’re saying is wrong, but at the end of the day, this phrase is supposed to sound like a compliment—as if to be valuable, recognized, or accepted, we have to strive to be more white. Sounds a lot deeper now, right? It is.
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I had a different life than what a “stereotypical” black woman in America had. I spoke and dressed differently, had many more white friends, was privileged to a different type of education, and had a different family. I knew this and trust me, no one let me forget it. I always was told how I acted and spoke so “white” by those even closest to me. I was told how successful my family was for a black family and how smart I was for a black girl—as if everyone expected me to be opposite all of those things. Notice how I am only different because I am comparing myself to this picture of black women that our country has created. This narrative that black women can only be loud and fit into this “ghetto” black girl idea.
To the uneducated ear, these phrases may just sound cringy and uncomfortable, but those words helped create a narrative of self-hatred and confusion that has followed me for years. I began to question who I was and my worth and tried to pursue education and academia as a way to fill it. I slaved away at numerous clubs and padded my resume so much I bet I could eat it. I began to believe that I wouldn’t go on a date for years because I didn’t believe that non-black boys would like a black girl. I always felt the need to compensate a little bit extra around my friends because, well, I was black.
After entering college, those feelings of self-hatred became replaced with more doubt and confusion. I knew that I did not need validation from anyone, but at the same time, it seemed like if I didn’t vie for the acceptance of white people, how was I going to succeed? How could I get my dream job or have the life I wanted without playing into the very system that instilled so much bitterness into my self-esteem? It was the most systemic and evil catch-22 of all time. It just didn’t make sense until I realized that all it was was systemic racism being used systematically against not only me but what I represented.
Does it make sense now? Microaggressions open the door for the deterioration of black mental health, but beyond that, it plays right into the narrative of the oppressor and the oppressed. It fosters the idea that my goal in life has to be to become more white, regardless if it’s through my successes, education, or future life. Now, I have grown to ignore these microaggressions because I know the ideas they are rooted in, but that’s nothing to be applauded. The journey of accepting oneself because of ethnicity and race is not one that anyone should have to bear, especially when it’s fueled by ignorance. So in the future, think about your friends, future black daughters and sons, and the people around you. Before you tell a girl, she’s “pretty for a black girl” or a boy that he “sounds so educated” because he just pronounces his words differently, think twice, and understand how much the words you will forget in two minutes, could mean.