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Racial Microaggressions and Whiteness on Christian Campuses: Making the Invisible Visible

Editor’s note: The following article contains lists of racial microaggressions that minority students at two Christian colleges have been the recipients of, based on the author’s contacts with minority students at these colleges. The article also contains descriptions of how the recipients of racial microaggressions reacted to them, plus a description of how whiteness contrasts with the experiences of racial minorities. The author does not name the colleges where the reports of microaggressions were obtained.


racial microaggressions

Racism in the United States is widely thought to be overt and explicit, such as what White nationalists or members of the Ku Klux Klan do or say. Their avowed declarations are consciously directed at Black or Jewish people and are clearly identifiable as hateful attacks.

There are other negative racial expressions, however, that are not overt or explicitly racist, often not thought to be negative by those who make them, and not motivated by hate. Nevertheless, they have negative effects on their recipients. These expressions are called “microaggressions.”

Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue describes racial microaggressions as “the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned White people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated.” These communications, he said, “are usually outside the level of conscious awareness of perpetrators.” The intentions of those expressing microaggressions are far from the hateful attacks of overt racists.

I had not heard of microaggressions before getting up a course titled Race and Justice at a Midwestern Christian college. When I did learn of them, I wondered whether Derald Wing Sue’s assertion about the extent of microaggressions was true in the Christian context I inhabited. He wrote: “Studies support the fact that people of color frequently experience microaggressions, that it is a continuing reality in their day-to-day interactions with friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers, and employers in academic, social and public settings.” He also stated that “studies reveal that racial microaggressions have powerful detrimental consequences to people of color.”

I decided to ask minority students at the college where I was teaching whether they had been the recipient of racial microaggressions from other students and if so what they were. I got long lists. I also got their reactions to the microaggressions, which often were deeply expressive, describing hurt, frustration, and anger. I got the same lists and reactions from former students at another Midwestern Christian college I had taught at not long before.

“Christians who are well-meaning still have implicit biases that they don’t know exist and that shape the way they interact with others.” – College Student

The lists and reactions described below come from 25 students, 16 during the 2017-2018 academic year at the college I was then teaching at, and nine former students at the previous Christian college I had taught at for 31 years up until 2013.

Although the racial microaggressions described by former students occurred some years ago, they are not out of date, as minorities continue to experience microaggressions. As “Dawn” stated, “I am worried that in the present state of our country the subtle insults I continue to receive will become more pointed.”

I was able to get these lists and reactions because the minority students at these colleges knew me, a White professor they could trust to handle what they said with care and respect. Even though the lists are extensive, one cannot infer that these two colleges are worse than other Christian colleges and universities or worse than nonreligious colleges and universities. I ask readers to suspend judgment about such comparisons.

What can be said, though, in the words of one of the students I talked to, is that “Christians who are well-meaning still have implicit biases that they don’t know exist and that shape the way they interact with others.” It is highly likely that what is true of Christians at these two Christian colleges is also true of Christians elsewhere in the United States.

It might be thought that minority students at these colleges found them hard places to be at because of the quantity and variety of microaggressions they have been recipients of. Though this was true to varying degrees, it was also true that at least some minority students were devoted to the college they were at or had attended.

“Kyler’s” response to my question of whether he liked being at one of the colleges is typical of the sentiments of the minority students I talked to at that college: “I love _______. I want people to know about microaggressions, because I care about _______. “Micah” went through a lot of depression while at the other college, but declared, “I definitely appreciated my time at _______.”

These are my sentiments as well about both colleges. This article is not intended to cast a negative light on these colleges, but simply to make visible a prominent reality in the lives of minorities so that those who are uninformed about it, like I once was, can become sensitive to it.

What Makes a Microaggression an Aggression?

campus photo

It may seem too strong to characterize a message that is not intended to be denigrating as an aggression. This is certainly true from the perspective of one who unintentionally sends the message. But from the perspective of one who receives the message, “aggression” is not too strong.

Consider this scenario: You, a non-Asian person, ask a new Asian-looking acquaintance where they are from. They mention a town and state in the United States. You then ask, “Where are you really from?” or “What country are you from?” You are asking only out of curiosity, perhaps even loving curiosity, as you want to get to know your acquaintance better. But the person who fields your question hears a subtext: “You are not willing to accept my answer. You are stereotyping me. You would not ask this question of a new acquaintance of your own color, so why are you asking it of me?” From this perspective, the question causes the Asian recipient to feel “othered” by you. It comes across as insensitive and unfeeling, somewhat aggressive. After being asked the question by a number of different people, the recipient begins to feel alienated.

People who are recipients of microaggressions experience them not just once or twice, but numerous times, and not just the same one, but a variety of microagressions. The questions or statements may feel innocent the first few times, but eventually they feel abrasive because of their sheer quantity.

This happened to “Caroline,” who has an Asian ancestry, and who was not bothered by the questions and comments about her identity when she first arrived at college. Later, though, she became bothered by them: “Microaggressions have a way of starting out seemingly small and innocent, but over time they transform into harmful and potentially dangerous wounds in the already difficult life of a minority person.” Caroline continues, “After a while, they began to wear me down and infect me with a negativity I did not previously have. I began to feel defensive and constantly on the lookout for further attacks.”

Notice the strong words that Caroline uses to describe the process. Though at first she regarded what was said as small and innocent, as time passed she began to feel worn down and defensive. As more time passed, what was said to her came to feel like attacks. During this process, she became more and more fearful of further comments that would injure her.

Although some microaggressions seem innocent, others are not so innocent. A White person’s touching the hair of a Black person, female or male, is not so innocent, and so neither is a White person asking to touch a Black person’s hair. In White U.S. culture, it is almost always off limits for one White person to touch the hair of another White person out of curiosity, whether or not one asks to do so, even if the other person is a close friend. The same limits apply across races, no matter the race.

Some of the students I contacted reported that the microaggressions they experienced came only from White people, but others reported that although the majority of microaggressions came from White people, some also came from other minorities.

Whites, to be sure, are curious about Black hair and want to know what it feels like. But curiosity has limits. There are limits to questions that it is appropriate to ask another person without the questions being intrusive or the other person feeling violated or disrespected. Asking what another person’s hair feels like is such a question.

Part of what prompts microaggressions directed at minorities is “differentism”: treating people who are different with unwarranted attention or curiosity, thinking of them as odd, not like oneself, such as staring at someone who is extremely tall or being intrusively curious about someone who has a Mohawk haircut.

Racial differences prompt such attention and curiosity. But racial microaggressions often have an added component: a sense of superiority or normalcy. Here “normalcy” is not just a descriptive word referring to the amount of people in a given social group, but a value word carrying the idea that those who are in the majority are better than those who are not.

Although being the recipient of repeated comments based only on differentism may seem harmless, it can still have the same effect as being the recipient of comments based on a sense of superiority. Those derived from a sense of superiority, of course, convey, even if unintended, that the recipient is inferior.

Although Black people and other people of color  are recipients of some common microaggressions, there are differences. I will list the microaggressions separately. The categories are Black, Hispanic, and Asian. People in other categories, including Native American and Middle Eastern, plus those who are mixtures of two or more categories, are also recipients of microaggressions, which often have the same underlying tone of otherness and exclusion that Black, Hispanic, and Asian people experience. Those who are mixed get additional comments that intensify their feeling of not fully belonging to one category—not fully Black, Hispanic, Asian, or White—and thus not fully belonging anywhere.

Some of the students I contacted reported that the microaggressions they experienced came only from White people, but others reported that although the majority of microaggressions came from White people, some also came from other minorities.

Microaggressions Directed to Black Students

campus photo
(File photo)

Here is a list of microaggressions Black students said they have experienced with other students at the same college:

  1. Asking to feel my hair
  2. Touching my hair without asking
  3. Saying that my hair is different and looks funny
  4. “Oh!! Your hair looks like a rat in the trash can!”
  5. Assuming that I only listen to rap music
  6. Assuming that I live in the inner city
  7. Assuming that my mom and family aren’t Christian because I was born outside of wedlock
  8. Assuming I’m angry when I express passion about something
  9. Commenting on the way I speak
  10. Telling me that I speak incorrect English when I am speaking in Ebonics (AAVE)
  11. Being called on to explain the history of an African-American spiritual
  12. Assuming that I know the names of hip-hop songs
  13. Asking whether I am at college for football or basketball
  14. Asking whether my scholarship is for diversity or assuming that my scholarship was given to me solely because I am Black
  15. Asking me to freestyle
  16. “Wow! That’s so great you live with both of your parents.”
  17. “I love hanging out with you so much that sometimes I forget you’re not White.”
  18. “You’re the whitest Black girl I know.”
  19. “Let’s not make them [Whites] feel uncomfortable here.”
  20. “Black babies are cuter than normal babies.”
  21. “What’s up, my nigga?”
  22. Having the issue of race dismissed by students during class discussions
  23. Being asked by other students in a group project to do the smallest task in the project
  24. Being asked by other students in a group project whether I was smart and had a good work ethic.
  25. Getting peculiar glances from people who do not know me as I walk around campus, as if I do not belong at this college
  26. Changing the tone or pronunciation of words to match the Black vernacular
  27. 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.
  28. Two White females ran away when they saw me walking across campus as if I was a threat.
  29. In my race and ethnic relations class, White students stated that Black people should be grateful that White people brought them to America.
  30. 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.
  31. “I have a Black friend.”
  32. “I know Black people who don’t do that or wouldn’t feel that way.”
  33. “Why are your people so unmotivated?”
  34. “All Black people have a dystopian view and are hopeless.”
  35. “Why do all Black people like lemonade?” “Why do all Black people like chicken?”
  36. “Hey, dog! What up?” “Hey, man!” “Yo! What up, my brother?”
  37. 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.”
  38. “You’re not that dark. What are you mixed with?”
  39. Calling Black people “colored”: “He was a great colored boy.”
  40. 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:

  1. Hearing car doors being locked
  2. Seeing people cross streets
  3. Seeing women clutch purses
  4. Being called an oreo
  5. Having White teenagers ask me whether I sell drugs
  6. Making fun of Black people’s fear of police officers
  7. Being followed when I go into a store
  8. 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.
  9. 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.”

Microaggressions Directed to Hispanic Students

students
(Photo: Eliott Reyna/Unsplash)

It is sometimes thought that only Black people are the recipient of racialized comments. But this is not true. All racial minorities are subject to differentism and racial microaggressions. Here is a list experienced by Hispanic students from other students:

  1. “It’s nice that you live with both parents.”
  2. “Does your dad live at home?”
  3. “At home do you and your family speak English?”
  4. “Are you Mexican?”
  5. Assuming I speak Spanish
  6. Speaking Spanish to me even though we have never met
  7. Assuming I “Latin dance”
  8. Expecting me to know how to dance
  9. Assuming I play soccer
  10. Trying to pronounce my name with a “Spanish” accent
  11. Asking me to say something in Spanish
  12. Telling me my Spanish sounds sexy or amazing
  13. Asking me to make rice and beans or to cook another Latino dish 
  14. Asking me whether I dream in Spanish
  15. “Are you adopted?”
  16. Asking why I like spicy food
  17. Not being acknowledged by a new arrival when in a group of White students
  18. Being asked several times whether I understood lab instructions
  19. Being pushed to say where I am really from

“Trevor” wrote, “The microaggressions I have received make me feel devalued and cause me to question my culture. The perception of others has a huge impact on how I perceive my culture, so when one questions or threatens that, it can be very problematic. I get angry.”

“Alicia” said, “I felt anger and disliked when these microaggressions occurred. Right now, though, I am in a different place and can brush them off.”

Microaggressions Directed to Asian Students

The following list has been experienced by Asian students from other students:

  1. “Are you adopted?”
  2. “Where are you really from?”
  3. “Are you taking Chinese?
  4. “Do you eat rice all the time here at school, too?”
  5. “What kind of Asian are you?”
  6. “Are you a math major?”
  7. “Are you in the Music Conservatory?”
  8. “Is English your first language?”
  9. “This is how we do that in America.”
  10. “Your eyes are big for a Chinese person.”
  11. “You’re Asian? Makes sense that you’re smart.”
  12. “You’re half Indian? So you like curry?”
  13. When dating White men: “I really like you but my parents can’t know” or “We can date but it can’t be serious.”
  14. Being accused of stealing when I was the only minority in my dorm suite.

Off campus, Asian students have experienced these:

  1. “Asian babies are not cute like White babies.”
  2. “You don’t dress Asian.”
  3. “Mixed people are so unique; that is what makes them pretty.” Or: “I just don’t like Asian people that way.”
  4. Asking whether I know some person in Japan when someone finds out that I am part Japanese
  5. Speaking to me in Chinese or Korean without asking whether I speak either of those languages
  6. Bowing in interactions with me based on the assumption that I am Asian and not Asian American
  7. Expressing annoyance about “looking Asian” in a picture in which a non-Asian person is squinting
  8. “I know an Asian woman who looks just like you.”

Caroline writes about the “Where are you from?” question (#2), which, she says, is really asking what race or ethnicity one is: “I have found that the question has gone from something that I loved answering to a question that almost immediately puts me on edge, because I know what the person is really wanting to know, and once I answer, I feel as if they think they know who I am, based solely on my face. I am proud of my mixed identity, but when people constantly ask me where I am from, I feel like an exhibit, a peculiarity, just something that has to be figured out.”

“Alexa” is also mixed—partly White and partly Japanese. In addition to comments based on her partly Japanese look, it is common for her to be identified as not White enough nor Asian enough to fit either category. This implies, she writes, that she is below the standard of both categories.

Alexa’s reaction to the microaggressions she has received is that “more often than not I feel sad and disappointed because I realize that they stem from people not understanding me as a whole person and jumping to conclusions based on social stereotypes. When friends comment on my appearance, they are unintentionally dubbing me as an outsider who is below the standard of normalcy. This creates doubt about my inherent worth as a human being, a doubt that is made worse by the presence of Christianity within the relationship. When people in positions of authority use their authority to justify microaggressions, I get angry, especially when they are in the church. Their microaggressions raise the question of how to maintain peace with those who do not realize the deep-seated harm they are causing. I usually choose to keep anger to myself, because I see that it would be a losing battle to say something, a battle that would create division where unity is needed. But keeping anger to myself takes a toll on my sense of worth, because it makes me wonder whether what I do could be done better by a person who is unhindered by race.”

On Being a Minority Student

“Annie” reflects on her experience as a minority student: “We minority students all have different experiences on campus, and, sadly, a lot of them are hurtful, due to the fact that too often we are recipients of insults, shockingly ignorant remarks, microaggressions, and statements that devalue or completely invalidate our home culture or ethnic makeup. I think that we humans like to put people into familiar boxes or categories, and many students on campus, most of them White, don’t have very articulate or well-informed boxes to place minority students in. There is not a lot of explicit racism on campus, but implicit racism bleeds out through subtle microaggressions, often masked in the confusing cover of humor. Microaggressions are a type of bullying. They may be camouflaged or partly unintentional, but the feelings of being labeled as weird or ‘less than’ sting. It is difficult to be studying, working, and living on a campus where you don’t feel welcome due to something about your background that you cannot control.”

Trevor states, “Being a male of color on campus is no easy task.”

As a result of the microaggressions he has received, Kyler says, “The most prevalent emotion that I have felt throughout my time at college is being misunderstood.”

“Ethan’s” take on microaggressions is that “they obviously make people uncomfortable and therefore cause people to stay clear of racial discussion.” About the racial climate on campus, Ethan says that “there is a large amount of spoken and unspoken tension. Many times when race is talked about on campus, White people are made to seem inherently and extremely evil. Black people are thought to be both an attraction and a liability. These make it difficult for positive discussions on race to occur.”

When “Asha” tried to remember some of the many microaggressions she had experienced, she found that she could not state them verbatim. It was as if, she said, her “brain purged them after I vented or fumed in the moment, in order for me to cope and not grow bitter.”

Caroline wonders, “Do I have a right to be upset by these seemingly small things or am I making a big deal out of nothing? Do I need to put aside my own feelings and be accommodating so that other people feel comfortable?” She also asks, in a different vein, “Do I owe a response when asked questions that White people would not normally be asked?”

On Being White

In listening to the feelings of minorities about the microaggressions they have experienced, I could not help but ask myself, “How would I feel if I were a minority who was the recipient of them?” After a period of time I think I would find it exhausting to have to invest emotional energy in dealing with the microaggressions. With Annie, I might feel very unknown and, again with her, ask, “Why am I at a school where there are all these White people who don’t understand and say dumb things?” Perhaps I would wonder whether other students know what they are doing. But as soon as I wondered this I would think of the distinction between genuine and culpable ignorance. With the former, one cannot help being ignorant, but with the latter, one is responsible for being ignorant. I might think, “Why don’t they know better? Why haven’t they thought of the Golden Rule and asked themselves how they would feel if they were Black, Hispanic, Asian, or some other minority?”

I have sometimes been the recipient of unkind remarks, but never have I been the recipient of a remark based on my being White, nor am I ever likely to be as long as I inhabit a predominantly White culture. A fair share of my whiteness consists of the fact that I have not experienced the microaggressions that minority people have experienced. In particular:

  1. No one has ever touched my hair because they are curious about it.
  2. No one has ever asked to touch my hair because they want to know what it feels like.
  3. No one has ever assumed that I like a certain kind of music. People always ask, “What kind of music do you like?”
  4. No one has ever commented on the way I talk.
  5. I have never heard car doors being locked when someone of a different race drives by me.
  6. I have never seen people cross the street when they see me.
  7. No one has ever directed a racial slur toward me.
  8. No one has asked me whether I was a college professor because I am White.
  9. No one has ever presumed that I speak for all White people.
  10. No one has ever asked me whether English is my first language.
  11. No one has made assumptions about the food I eat because I am White.
  12. No one has made a comment about how I look because of my skin color or facial configuration.
  13. No one has expressed untoward curiosity about the culture of which I am a part.
  14. No one has stared at me as I walk around campus as though I don’t belong.

In general,

  1. I have never been made to feel “less than” because of my race.
  2. I have not been fearful of being the recipient of racially motivated remarks.
  3. I have not had to invest emotional energy in dealing with comments based on the fact that I am White.
  4. Part of my having white privilege involves my not being the recipient of microaggressions.
  5. I am usually not aware that I am not the recipient of microaggressions.

This last point needs some unpacking. Part of what is involved in my being White is that I have not been aware that I am White. My being White has felt normal to me. This is because I am part of the White majority in the U.S. Moreover, in the White schools and churches I have attended, and in my family of origin, I have not been taught to recognize my feeling of normalcy, nor to be aware of the fact that no one has ever slurred me for being White. I might have been aware of this last fact if I had been taught that minorities are sometimes slurred. But I had not been taught this, either. As a result, I came to regard my being White, and with it the fact of not having been the recipient of microaggressions, as an “unearned asset which I can count on cashing each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious,” to use the words of Peggy McIntosh in her classic article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

It may be, too, that some people will regard the whole subject of racial microaggressions, and with it the talk of race itself, as unnecessary, perhaps even harmful, to racial harmony.

I am no longer oblivious about microaggressions. The invisible has become visible to me. Yet, I tend to go through my days largely forgetting that minorities go through their days having to field comments that make them feel unwelcome and disvalued.

I forget, too, that because it is—to use Trevor’s words—“no easy task to be a person of color” on campus, minorities face challenges stemming from realities that I take for granted: a skin color that is not perceived as “other,” a stable sense of self-worth, welcoming acceptance by those of a different race, an unchallenged cultural identity, conversations that are free of unwarranted assumptions about me. I can be confident and comfortable, whereas minorities experience uncertainty and distress.

What to Do?

Perhaps some White people will respond to these lists of microaggressions by wanting to clam up when talking to a person of color for fear of offending them with a stray remark. However, one need not have such intense fear. There are things one can keep in mind when talking to a minority person. Here are a few:

  1. Think of the Golden Rule: imagine that you are a different color or race and ask how you would feel if you were the recipient of a particular question or statement.
  2. Exhibit welcoming acceptance.
  3. Curb your curiosity. Do not try to find out what “box” to put someone in.
  4. Do not assume that you are normal and that the other is not.
  5. For those who identify as Christian: picture yourself acting with the same care and respect that Jesus would display.

Actually, these are things to keep in mind when talking to anyone. The point is to treat others, whether like us or not, with the same sensitivity and respect with which we would want to be treated.

It may be, too, that some people will regard the whole subject of racial microaggressions, and with it the talk of race itself, as unnecessary, perhaps even harmful, to racial harmony. If we simply treat everyone equally, they might say, the issue of race in the U.S. will be resolved. However, this overlooks the fact that minorities continue to be deeply hurt by microaggressions, even more so, Donald Wing Sue has found, than when they are the object of overt and hateful attacks. In order for minorities to be treated equally, microaggressions must be eliminated from interactions with them. Since people often are unaware of their microaggressions, they must learn about them. One good way to do this is to listen empathetically to those who have been recipients of microaggressions, either in one-on-one encounters or by reading their stories.

Author’s note: My thanks to the twenty-five students and former students who contributed to this article. I changed the names of those who are quoted.

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