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Are you from this country? Microaggressions and racism

Dr. Cook-Snell wearing a kilt (Cook-Snell, 2020).

I was in line at the grocery store this week and chatting with the cashier. She was a young Black female. She asked about my kilt. I told her I wear a kilt so people would ask me exactly that question and it gave me the opportunity to talk about my antiracist work.


“I am an antiracist, too,” she commented, “I’m against racism”.

To which I replied, “I’m trying to educate white people about their own biases and blinders to issues of race and white privilege. I do antiracist education and facilitation”.

She nodded her approval and then added, “I don’t think Trump is the problem, he didn’t cause racism”.

I must admit, this was the first time I had heard a Black person say something non-negative about Trump. I responded, “Well he didn’t cause racism because its been around for years, but he certainly has contributed to bringing the issue to the forefront because of his racist remarks”.

She changed the topic back to my kilt. Jokingly, I said I had the heritage to wear it because I’m primarily Scottish, Irish, and Welsh descended. To which she replied, “Are you from this country?”

This was the first time I’ve ever been asked this question, too. It made me reflect about all the times I’ve asked Black Americans with accents where they were from or Asian Americans with choppy English the same. It is a practice I no longer do and have refrained from doing ever since I started doing antiracist work. But the fact that someone asked me where I was from based upon appearances was extremely was eye opening.


The question appears harmless at face value, but in fact, it is a microaggression. “Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 273). It is a statement that reflects white privilege by establishing whiteness as the norm, even though, in this case, it was asked by a young Black female. The fact she asked the question may have been due to conversation, age, or many other non-race related issues, but it also reflects how she has been indoctrinated into the system of racist thought that is a product of the imperialism and colonialism of my European descended ancestors. Examples of this microaggression and others along with suggestions on how to ask or not ask a question are presented in an article by Ward and Premack (2020). The link is in the references.

I wonder how my cashier friend would have responded if I told her my full heritage of not only Irish, Welsh, and Scottish, but also German and African … funny, but you don’t look Black.

References

Cook-Snell, B. (2020). Dr. Cook-Snell wearing a kilt [Photograph] [Previously unpublished].

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271

Ward, M., & Premack, R. (2020, July 24). What is a microaggression? 14 things people think are fine to say at work – but are actually racist, sexist, or offensive. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/microaggression-unconscious-bias-at-work-2018-6#where-are-you-actually-from-6

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What does it mean to be Antiracist?

Background text pattern concept wordcloud illustration of racial profiling glowing light
Racial profiling word cloud (iStockPhoto.com/kgtoh, 2015). (c) iStock by Getty Images. Purchased for use by standard licensing agreement.


“What do Black People need saving from?”

(asked by a Black seminary professor during a white fragility discussion group that I co-facilitate)


We were talking about DiAngelo’s (2018) analysis of the movie, The Blind Side (Hancock, 2009), in response to a question on white people’s motives when helping Black people. Often, even though white people think our motives are noble and pure, we may actually be operating from a posture of systemic racism. There was much discussion on how can we help Black people and not be seen as racists? It was an honest question from a church group who wanted to act in the way of Christ, and didn’t want that action to be viewed from a position of white beneficence. They did not want to be perceived as trying to “save” a Black or Brown person from racism.

That question rattled around in my brain. “Saving” Black people from themselves is a white supremacist, colonialist and imperialistic concept (García, 2017), directly rooted in chattel slavery. While García (2017) does not support the black/white paradigm of racism because he argues it excludes Mexican American’s [(García’s self-labeling)] and brown skinned persons, the question of the seminary professor hit home, as did García’s comment with regards to “saving”. It struck a chord of truth within my psyche.


Had I been doing antiracist work to save Black people from the effects of racism, or had I been doing this work to expose white people to their systemic racists biases?


I realized I had been doing this from the position of the former, and not the latter. While consciously trying not to be a white messiah of Black deliverance from white racism, I was subconsciously acting as one. This experience continues to remind me how deeply racism is embedded within white culture. It reminds me that even as an antiracist educator, I need to be called out when my racism rears its ugly head.

Since then, I have been grappling with the question of what it means to be an antiracist white person and an antiracist educator. While my answer is not quite congealed into a philosophy of antiracist education, it’s a start.


My antiracist educator role is to expose white minds to the truth of the systemic racism embedded deep within white culture. It is to challenge the status quo of white conservative and liberal minds and transform them into a mindset of active liberation. It is to advocate for change in the policies and practices white culture continues to use to keep Black and BIPOC bodies and minds oppressed. And it is to stand up, stand out, and stand with, all persons fighting for equality.


References

DiAngelo, R. (2018) White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

García, R. (2017). Unmaking gringo-centers. The Writing Center Journal 36(1), 29-60.

Hancock, J. L. (Director). (2009). The blind side [Film]. Warner Bros. Pictures.

iStockPhoto.com/kgtoh. (2015). Racial profiling word cloud [Photograph]. © iStock by Getty Images. Used by standard licensing purchase agreement.