The Silent Issue: Microaggressions | Teen Ink

The Silent Issue: Microaggressions

May 23, 2019
By KaylahS. BRONZE, Wilbraham, Massachusetts
KaylahS. BRONZE, Wilbraham, Massachusetts
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

During my 3 years of high school, I’ve seen and encountered many things. I’ve lost friends, gained friends. I’ve lost weight and gained weight. The only thing this school has lost is February break. The most I’ve seen added was ice cream at lunch. The one thing that has never changed in this school since my sister went here and graduated in 2013, is the bias towards kids of color and LGBTQ+ students.

Last year, my junior year, my English teacher Ms. Norris approached me about doing something called an independent study. She’d seen that I was fairly comfortable talking about race and sexuality in this school. I’d also been somewhat vocal about the injustices that occur in this school and things that happen in the black community. Although there haven't been too many cases of blatant racism since I’ve been here that I've heard about, there is a still a silent problem going on. Microaggressions.

Microaggressions are comments or actions that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally express a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (based on race, gender, class, or sexuality.) Ex; "You’re pretty for a black girl." This implies that all black girls are ugly but you're the exception. Ex; “You're masculine for a gay guy.” This hardens the stereotype that the all gay men are feminine. Now these don’t seem like they are big deals, but really microaggressions can really impact a person’s life. The process of a microaggression can be broken down into five phases. To get a better understanding let’s put it into perspective.  John is a white boy talking to an Asian girl named Charlie. John turns to Charlie and asks her, “Where are you from?” Charlie says, “New York.” John then says, “No, where are you really from?” Microaggressions always start with the incident or event which can be verbal or non verbal. What you just read was an example of a verbal incident/event. Charlie is now thinking, “Did he ask me that because I’m Asian?” or “Why doesn't he believe me?” or “How come he doesn't believe me, do other people think I’m not American because of my race or ethnicity?” This is phase two, perception and questioning. Then she moves to phase three, healthy paranoia: “Did he only ask me that because I’m Asian?” As a sanity check, Charlie asks John why he asked that and if it’s because she’s Asian. Next comes the sub-phase called empowering/self-validation; John tells her she’s being overly sensitive and he was just asking a question. In this phase, others may begin to rescue the offender; Charlie asks a friend, George, if she was being sensitive and he tells her she was being sensitive and that John doesn't know any better. George even says, “It’s not like he’s racist.” Charlie's feelings were hurt but no one seemed to care or notice.

Now comes phase four, interpretation and meaning, which can come in many different ways: you don’t belong, you’re abnormal, you are intellectually inferior, and “you're all the same.” Charlie will experience at least 1-3 of these, then move to phase five, consequences: powerlessness, invisibility, forced compliance/loss of integrity. Charlie feels she can’t control how people look at her no matter how she acts or looks. She feels that no one will ever see her for the person that she is and not just “some Asian.” Charlie also feels that now she must act like her white friends and put her culture aside so she won't be looked at as different anymore, even though she isn't.

Although this situation seems miniscule, this happens every day to kids and adults and that could lead to many different things both small and big. Microaggressions, believe it or not, have negative mental effects: anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties, diminished confidence, helplessness, loss of drive, intrusive thoughts (e.g., internal dilemma), and diminished cognition. All of these are a heavy burden to carry and this all can be handled with the proper education.

I've heard microaggressions all my life from all sorts of people. It can be hurtful and just annoying to hear constantly. One that I’ve heard consistently throughout my life is, “you talk so white.” It implies that people of color don’t speak correctly. It made me feel like I wasn’t black enough and I had to do something called code switching which can get tiring and can mess with a person’s identity. Other  microaggressions that I experience almost everyday are anything to do with my hair. Whenever I get box braids or some type of black hair style I know as soon as I come to school people will start with the comments and the eventual invasion of personal space by reaching out to touch it.

This one time I had box braids. I’d just walked into class and sat down. My teacher walked in and noticed that my hair had changed again. The day before it was in a high bun but that day it had what seemed like hundreds of braids. Then the questions began: how long did it take? 6 hours. I could never do that yeah it’s a long process. Is it all your real hair? No but it is mine. So where’s your hair? And the questions just poured in from both the teacher and the students. Then the dreaded hand from the teacher reached out to me to grab one braid. I leaned back so she didn’t reach it. She got the hint and began to teach class. The whole ordeal happens to me all the time even if my natural hair is out. I’m not a toy. I'm not some brand new thing that the government wants to put on display. It makes me and many other black girls annoyed because it belittles us and makes us feel like objects.

My independent study this semester is attempting to help educate teachers in my high school about microaggressions. In surveys of around 50-60 students in Freshman English classes, a majority reported hearing a microaggression in school, on television and from friends. In the survey, it asks what schools could or should be doing to address this problem and what students do or would have done if they had responded to the microaggression that was said. One response that really struck me said that when he/she/they heard a microaggression they didn't say anything, “because you hear racist comments everyday.” That’s truly unfortunate because no one should have to live with that everyday and I hope that my school and other schools can work together to fix this issue.

The author's comments:

This was apart of an idependent study I did on microagressions during my senior year of high school

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.