A few months ago I went to see Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams who spent half the time doing stand up and the second half talking about herself and her experiences with the daily show. It also happened to be Naked Week (which name is self-evident) and she had joked about how she did not join a social contract in which she agreed to have naked people in the audience, which there were none of thankfully. It was extremely timely that Jessica Williams, who has often provided witty comments on race and women in the United States, framed what she would be exposed to using a “social contract.” This brought to mind the comment, “I didn’t sign up for this” whenever I or a fellow minority discuss microaggressions on campus; encounters which White students didn’t have to experience despite being part of the same community, the same social contract.
Some are not bothered by being asked “where are you from, from?” or find nothing problematic with casual (explicit and implicit) racially charged comments (i.e. can I touch your hair?, were you born here? etc.) At first, I thought this was troubling. It has been my experience that I and most people I share my life with are often irritated by these situations. However, after reading people like Charles Mills, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cheryl Harris, it has contextualized immensely both were these microaggressions come from and why those receiving them may be OK with it. What is now find troubling, is how to explain these histories to people who won’t be attending prestigious liberal arts colleges any time soon. This is when I am immediately hit with my own privilege of being in such an institution- that they don’t need Mills to understand that whites supremacy is still the political structure in the United States.
Re-watch the Dear White People trailer. Discussions we’ve had in class about where the definition and classifications of race has come from legally. Socially, microaggressions are an extension of the “dilemma” of how race is perceived institutionally. For example, in terms of gender, saying “you throw like a girl” is not only a social construct but based on a system in which it was forbidden that women play certain sports. Even when women were and are now allowed to play almost all sports, it is still seen as less than by the sports industry. Now back to race. Since for decades, the only way to be granted citizenship is to be white- does this not have long lasting effects? It is evident that the tension between who and what being “American” entails play out strongly in microaggressions. (See this advertisement)
Another counter argument is that focusing on being “politically correct” stirs some people away from the “much-needed-conversation-on-race.” The question I ask here then is, who are these people who can’t have these discussions without knowing they have “get out of jail card”? Non-whites are so much more often made aware of their race (and sex/gender/sexuality). If we analyze the institutional roots of this and decide that the system rather than the individual is to blame, then why can the privileged individual “go the extra mile” to avoid microaggressions and have leveled, meaningful conversations?
Microaggressions are subtle but still an unnecessary burden. I do not believe they are blown out of proportion regardless of how well the intentions of the perpetrators are. What do you think?