Commentary by ChiomaAloziem
“Omg I love your hair, is it real? Can I please touch it? How long is your natural hair? How do you wash it?” I was asked these questions multiple times a month by not only my classmates — but also my teachers. I thought it was normal because my other Black friends were asked the same questions. I didn’t realize that uncomfortable feeling I had was being shared with thousands of other Black girls around the world. No one educated me about microaggressions and how to deal with them.
“Unlike insults or even insensitive comments, microaggressions are very specific. They are the kinds of remarks, questions, or even actions that are hurtful because they have to do with a person’s membership in a group (such as race or gender) that’s discriminated against or subject to stereotypes. A major part of what makes them so disconcerting is that they happen casually, frequently, and often without any harm intended, in our everyday lives,” Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Ms. Devin Owens said.
Accidentally committing a microaggression does not make a micro aggressor a bad person. Microaggressions tend to be jokes or compliments that contain an unnoticed insult about a group of people. Junior Tamyiah Nielsen told a story about how a classmate told her that “She was so tan that she didn’t even look mixed.” Nielsen has a Black mom and a white dad. This may seem like a funny joke, but it’s completely incorrect, inappropriate and disrespectful.
First of all, not every Black-white biracial person a person will meet will be a nice, light golden brown. Black people can have a variety of skin complexions. Senior Bella Washington is also mixed, but she has a lighter complexion which may lead some to mistake her as “fully white.”
One religious minority group that often deals with microaggression is Muslim Americans. Freshman Sarah Mohammad grew up Muslim and wears a hijab to school every day. Before Mohammed came to Marian she experienced a lot of rude comments and stereotypes regarding her religion. “A boy called me a terrorist and was scheming on dropping to the floor with his friend when he saw me walk into the classroom,” Mohammed said.
According to Vox in a 2015 article by Jenée Desmond-Harris, former race, law, and politics reporter, “Research has shown that microaggressions, although they’re seemingly small and sometimes innocent offenses, can take a real psychological toll on the mental health of their recipients.” Experiencing microaggressions can jeopardize a person’s mental health and physical health. It can also cause depression and anger as well. Most importantly, it can cause someone to be less confident and less academically focused.
This might sound dramatic, but imagine a friend continually receiving backhanded compliments and remarks in front of their classmates. Then on top of that, their classmates join in and start laughing at them. Many would probably feel disturbed and uncomfortable for their friend, that’s what thousands of marginalized groups feel.
It’s completely normal to not grasp that a person’s actions can come off as offensive. However, it’s important to not overreact if someone calls you out for committing a microaggression. According to the Harvard Business Journal in 2020, there are five easy steps to solving the situation.
First, take a breath and don’t become defensive. The person informing you feels comfortable enough to tell you and wants you to grow as a person. Second, don’t become defensive and listen to why that person is uncomfortable. Next, apologize but don’t repeat it. Actions speak louder than words. Use the internet and understand why what was said was wrong. If you can look up slang terms in the Urban Dictionary, then you can take five minutes to understand the effects of your words. After you discern the issue, continue to educate yourself and beware of prejudice as well.
I love receiving compliments about my hair, especially since I spend more than eight hours getting it done. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating someone’s hairstyle or having genuine curiosity, but keep in mind boundaries. A person may not specifically tell you their boundaries but try to respect them by reading their body language. You can also respect them by paying attention or listening to them and how they react to certain topics or ideas.
Microaggressions are used every day and everywhere. Sometimes a person who experiences a microaggression may not even notice until later. Other times, a person allows microaggression to happen because they don’t want to make a scene or start drama. However, if you recognize someone saying something ignorant or offensive, say something. It doesn’t matter if you were eavesdropping in their conversation or if they are in a different grade. You sticking up for that person can help educate your peers and stop it from happening again. It’s 2021. Marginalized groups should not have to deal with microaggression.