Microaggressions Directed to Black Students
Here is a list of microaggressions Black students said they have experienced with other students at the same college:
- Asking to feel my hair
- Touching my hair without asking
- Saying that my hair is different and looks funny
- “Oh!! Your hair looks like a rat in the trash can!”
- Assuming that I only listen to rap music
- Assuming that I live in the inner city
- Assuming that my mom and family aren’t Christian because I was born outside of wedlock
- Assuming I’m angry when I express passion about something
- Commenting on the way I speak
- Telling me that I speak incorrect English when I am speaking in Ebonics (AAVE)
- Being called on to explain the history of an African-American spiritual
- Assuming that I know the names of hip-hop songs
- Asking whether I am at college for football or basketball
- Asking whether my scholarship is for diversity or assuming that my scholarship was given to me solely because I am Black
- Asking me to freestyle
- “Wow! That’s so great you live with both of your parents.”
- “I love hanging out with you so much that sometimes I forget you’re not White.”
- “You’re the whitest Black girl I know.”
- “Let’s not make them [Whites] feel uncomfortable here.”
- “Black babies are cuter than normal babies.”
- “What’s up, my nigga?”
- Having the issue of race dismissed by students during class discussions
- Being asked by other students in a group project to do the smallest task in the project
- Being asked by other students in a group project whether I was smart and had a good work ethic.
- Getting peculiar glances from people who do not know me as I walk around campus, as if I do not belong at this college
- Changing the tone or pronunciation of words to match the Black vernacular
- Being told that when I and my Black friends ate meals together and walked around campus together we were intimidating to White students and gave off vibes of gang activity to them.
- Two White females ran away when they saw me walking across campus as if I was a threat.
- In my race and ethnic relations class, White students stated that Black people should be grateful that White people brought them to America.
- While eating applesauce in the dining hall, a White male student walked up to the table I was sitting at and asked, “Black people eat applesauce?”, then “I knew Black people ate watermelons but didn’t know Black people ate applesauce”, then “What? I can’t ask you that type of question?” after I stared back at him.
- “I have a Black friend.”
- “I know Black people who don’t do that or wouldn’t feel that way.”
- “Why are your people so unmotivated?”
- “All Black people have a dystopian view and are hopeless.”
- “Why do all Black people like lemonade?” “Why do all Black people like chicken?”
- “Hey, dog! What up?” “Hey, man!” “Yo! What up, my brother?”
- The texture of my hair is finer than that of other Black people: “Oh, you must not be fully Black. You have to be mixed with something for your hair to be that way.”
- “You’re not that dark. What are you mixed with?”
- Calling Black people “colored”: “He was a great colored boy.”
- From a faculty member: “Y’know, some people just aren’t cut out for academic things. Maybe you should go home and take up a trade.”
Off campus, Black students experienced these:
- Hearing car doors being locked
- Seeing people cross streets
- Seeing women clutch purses
- Being called an oreo
- Having White teenagers ask me whether I sell drugs
- Making fun of Black people’s fear of police officers
- Being followed when I go into a store
- An offensive giggle, then “I didn’t expect that” and “It’s something most Black people don’t necessarily like” when I say that I enjoy country music.
- Saying the n-word that is in a song
The last item on the list needs a little explaining. The kind of song that is being referred to is one sung by a Black musician. The n-word is uttered by a White person on the grounds that if a Black person can use it in a song, so can a White person—not explicitly in everyday conversation as a racial slur, but in singing the song, or in repeating the phrase from the song. The idea behind the fact that using the n-word from a song is a microaggression is that the right to use the n-word does not automatically transfer from a Black person to a White person, because, as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, the context of the use of the word has changed significantly.
When “Deana” heard “Black babies are cuter than normal babies” (#20), she picked up on the word “normal” and heard the speaker intimating that Black babies are not “normal”—they are other. The statement made it clear to her that she was not part of the norm.
It was embarrassing for Deana to be asked to explain the history of an African-American spiritual (#11), because she did not know that history. She felt ashamed because she thought the other people in the class thought she was dumb for not knowing her people’s history. She was the only Black person in the class, so she felt it put unfair pressure on her to represent her whole race.
What has hurt Deana deeply over the course of her life is to be called an “oreo” (#4 in the second list). Deana’s skin color is somewhere between dark brown and “white.” So whenever she has been called an oreo, she has had an identity crisis: she doesn’t feel entirely Black, but she obviously is not White. Those who have called her an oreo—both Whites and other minorities—have meant it as a compliment. But to her it is one of the deepest insults someone can give, because it presupposes the superiority of being White. (For other accounts of how it feels to be called an oreo, see “How It Feels When Your Friend Calls You an Oreo” by Ella Pierre and “Please Don’t Call Me an Oreo, Or a White Girl for that Matter” by Nia Colon.)
Kyler was startled, angry, and extremely uncomfortable when a fellow student addressed him using the n-word (#21). Although the student later apologized, Kyler is still very uncomfortable being around that student. When he is asked whether he plays football (#13), which happens often, Kyler feels as if the asker thinks that the only reason he is at college is to play a sport and not for his academic credentials.
One of the persons who has often been asked whether he plays football wrote, “The notion that a Black man with healthy genes can’t possibly attend a rigorous academic institution without being on an athletic scholarship is a form of racism.” One of the students who has received a number of comments about being awarded a scholarship only because he is Black (#14) wrote, “The obvious insinuation is that I don’t belong at college or don’t deserve my scholarship, which happens to be a National Merit Scholarship. The idea that Black students, no matter their accolades or accomplishments, are inferior to White students alienates students of color.”
“Brandon” has been the recipient of numerous microaggressions. “They upset me when I first heard them and made me feel offended,” he wrote. “However, that soon transitioned to feeling shame, because I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to feel grace toward the person who had said things to me. Sometimes I wanted to remain in righteous anger, lamenting what happened, and sometimes I moved to grace so quickly that I didn’t get to lament and be angry.”
Because of her negative experiences, especially being told that she and her friends were intimidating when they walked together (#27), Dawn transferred to another college after her freshman year, but returned second semester of her sophomore year, although with great hesitancy. The negative experiences left her “hurt, a bit angry, terribly sad, and sometimes anxious.”
One of the Black students reported that he had experienced the same racial stereotypes at another Christian college in the East. In both places, he felt singled out, targeted, and judged. It felt to him as though Black and White people inhabited two different worlds.
Sometimes the pain of being the recipient of racial aggressions lasts for years. “Jasmine” experienced “endless lashings of racial injustice” while at college. As she was writing to me about those experiences, she was “second guessing whether my feelings were valid. That is how deep the wounds from the abuse are.” In addition to the experiences she described to me, “there were countless other stories that replay in my mind like a recording that plays without my consent. All these experiences still make me feel angry, small, purposeless, and downright hurt.” “Micah” stated that the racial microaggressions he experienced were “hard to get over. And I still feel like I am battling them in some ways eight years later.”
Because of what “Moriah” experienced at college, she wanted to transfer after two years, but her mother convinced her to stay “because that is the way the world would be anyway and there was no hiding from it. I got a thick skin from being there, which prepared me for being an adult.”