Microaggressions – Deepening the Divide

Today I want to bring up a tough topic, and I bring it up not as the expert opinion, but as a person – just wanting to do want is right.

This has been on my mind for a while…and then I went to my first son’s first baseball game with a new team.  As the parents were exchanging pleasantries, I honestly didn’t really take note of the diversity sitting in the stands.  I turned around, and one of the white moms, laughing from a conversation I wasn’t a part of, told me her name – we’ll call her Erin.  A Latino dad sitting next to her said, “Oh, you’re not gonna tell her your other name?” Erin laughed and said, “He said my other name was Tasha because I can get a little loud sometimes.”

I just froze. I was then keenly aware of the diversity sitting in the stands, with a quiet African American mom sitting right above her in the stands.

And then, I did the absolutely wrong thing.  I turned around and said nothing.  I was so floored, and this being my first time meeting this group, that I just sat there, stunned.  But, man, it has stuck with me.

I’ve been researching microaggressions lately, and while I believe there is a lot of ‘gray’ area when it comes to microaggressions, I think it comes down to two factors:

  1. Our own cultural bias
  2. Our assumptions of other people

Microaggressions have been defined in many ways, but here is a definition I particularly like: everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (https://www.messiah.edu/download/downloads/id/921/Microaggressions_in_the_Classroom.pdf)

The very term MICRO indicates that these are going to be small, seemingly insignificant statements or behaviors that could potentially have a big impact on the recipient. I believe that these statements are often not made to be intentionally harmful or hateful.  It even seems that some may even be made in humor – just to get a laugh – like the statement from the baseball mom.

Microaggressions (specifically in the classroom) may include:

  1. Setting lower expectations or consistently asking lower level questions to non-white students
  2. Assuming all African Americans play basketball and making a comment about it
  3. Failing to pronounce a student’s name correctly after they have corrected you
  4. Singling students out or embarrassing students for cultural or ethnic reasons
  5. Making comments like, “You’re not a typical Black/Latino/Mexican.”

Here’s the difficult thing – sometimes these statements may bring a laugh.  Sometimes these statements may be very offensive. We just don’t know what our neighbors and students have been through, or where their journey has taken them.

I don’t have all of the answers on this one, but I just wanted to open up the conversation.

Here’s what I do know.  For myself, and my philosophy as an educator, above all else, I want to walk in love.  Whether I agree or disagree with everything about everyone, my role is not to judge, but to love. So, if saying something to get a laugh hurts another’s feelings, I don’t want to say it, nor do I want to laugh.

When talking about Culturally Responsive teaching, we know that our end goal is to move students into academic success, and living in a world or creating an environment of microaggressions will not create the alliance or the expectations to get them there.

My challenge to myself is to become more aware of microaggressions, and the people who may be hurt by them.  We want to celebrate diversity and differences, and unite as people for some common goals.  I don’t know everything about microaggressions, but I know they only drive the wedge deeper into division and racism, and that is never the goal.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: