The Racists Are Winning: Why I Can’t Say ‘Micro-Aggressions’ Anymore

Photo credit: Getty Images

Photo credit: Getty Images

I realized today that I don’t know how to be a carefree Black girl. I think part of me wants to be. But, most of me can’t for reasons (read: White Supremacy).

Between the omnipresence of Black Death displayed via the very public execution of unarmed Black bodies  (as most recently reproduced in the case of Walter Scott), and the perpetual anti-Blackness I experience every single day in academia, I’m finding that I do care. I care a lot. Yet, I’m growing so weary of it.

This weariness is the exact goal of modern racism. Just wear Black people down until we have no fight left. Just bludgeon us on all sides until we can’t even figure out a plan or mode of attack (or defense). I feel like they’re winning at it too.

I used to use the term “micro-aggression” to describe my daily battles with Whites and non-Black people of color (NBPoC) who reproduce White Supremacist oppression. But, I have grown and matured. My race-related lexicon has expanded. I have more flowery words to describe this limited term now. Truth is though: microaggressions aren’t micro at all. They are a part of a macro-level system of White supremacy and White privilege which systematically isolates and excludes Black folks from equal access to justice, representation in politics, respect in the public sphere and from institutions, and opportunity for social mobility.

Micro-aggressions are symptomatic of macro-level racial aggression. Calling this White Supremacist aggression by a cute name which minimizes it and makes it seem encapsulated in the humdrum-ness of the interpersonal sells short the fantastically grand intention of racial hatred: to perpetually exclude, marginalize, and criminalize Black bodies.

Why am I saying this? Well, because in just this week, I have faced so many of these aggressions that, even though it is only Thursday, all I want to do is crawl into fetal position and eat Rocky Road ice cream while sideways watching brainless movies like “Battleship” and “Wrath of the Titans.” Don’t judge me.

Dealing with the onslaught of White, male trolls who wait, poised in the darkest corners of the internets awaiting tragedies in the Black community so that they can demonize and berate Black people on social media has grown entirely old. Interacting with students and faculty whose world views inherently exclude the concept that Black people experience the world differently is tiresome. And constantly feeling like being publicly Black is considered a cultural failing is becoming a part of my daily grind. These are not processes of micro-aggressive behaviors. These are the products of an unaddressed, implicit institutional racism that is embedded is every social structure in the US.

Not only that, these phenomena are indicative of the transformative nature of institutional racism as it is capable of breaching the psycho-social boundary even for folks who are well-meaning (remember what I told you in my piece about Starbuck‘s?)

Even as I write this, I am experiencing anti-Blackness. I walk in a room to write quietly and the young White woman who was already here reading packs up and goes next door. Moments later, a South Asian woman in my program walks in, heads into this room, looks up to see me there, and then turns tail to go next door as well. Then, there are the moments when my skin acts as a cloaking device. I will find myself repeating an answer to a question in a class only to have no one “hear” me. This is quite a feat given my deeper, louder voice. Moments later, someone else will repeat what I have said but everyone hears them because, well, a non-Black person said it.

What exactly makes these experiences “micro”? They just feel like plain ol’ racial aggression. They are expected. They have become a part of my normal day. For many Black people, they are the norm. And, they are always disconcerting, isolating, and exclusionary. What is “micro-aggressive” about that?

The psychological impact of these aggressions follows me each day as I attempt to be a mother, wife, doctoral student, friend, and citizen. Dr. Derald Wing Sue outlines this in her article “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life.”

“They [people of color] are often made to feel excluded, untrustworthy, second-class citizens, and abnormal. People of color often describe the terrible feeling of being watched suspiciously in stores, that any slipup they make would negatively impact every person of color, that they felt pressured to represent the group in positive ways, and that they feel trapped in a stereotype. The burden of constant vigilance drains and saps psychological and spiritual energies of targets and contributes to chronic fatigue and a feeling of racial frustration and anger.”

And, because many of these aggressions operate implicitly (there’s no way to know if people are leaving the room because I am Black or if they just didn’t want to be in here in the first place), it leaves me questioning my own dispositions. Am I just off-putting? Am I being overly sensitive? Is it me? Folks will rather have you believing something is wrong with you than ever admit that they are racist.

We can’t pretend as though the murders of unarmed Black men and women is different from regular old anti-Black racism and the corollary White Supremacy. While I am still here living to tell the story of my experiences, I am being killed just a little bit everyday. Each time I am disregarded, excluded, or treated as though I’m not the right kind of human, part of me has to compensate. And compensating means that I don’t get to be carefree. On the contrary, I am forced to place an inordinate amount of attention on the external forces which plague my existence everyday. That, frankly, isn’t living. That’s dying.

This is why I just can’t use the term “micro-aggression” anymore. It doesn’t fairly assess the dubious nature of anti-Blackness and it undercuts the hegemonic character of White Supremacy. If I could get everyone to stop using it, I would. But then again, if I could get everyone to do anything we wouldn’t be in this problem in the first place.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

5 Responses

  1. John Henry says:

    Well stated!

  2. says:

    These are interesting, great words. The overt, multifaceted aspects of oppression are so vicious and so hardcore that they can’t be classified as “microaggressions.” We have to study about these issues and the system of white supremacy is a global phenomena. There are so many studies, murders of unarmed black people, etc. that document its vicious, murderous history. We have to keep on working, studying, and learning lessons continually in our lives.

  3. Ali Wilders says:

    It is with all sincerity that I tell you this observation. I hope that instead of a knee-jerk reaction you absorb what I am telling you and consider some avenues that will heal your mind and soul. Based on your blog and reading through your posts, it seems as though you have either a paranoid personality disorder or PTSD with cultural paranoia. You display five of the seven criteria for PPD:

    A. A pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

    (1) suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her
    (2) is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates
    (3) reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events
    (4) persistently bears grudges, i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights
    (5) perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack

    For example, you say that a white woman who was reading got up and left the room when you walked in to use your computer to write this blog. You have no other evidence that she has a problem with you based on your race, just that she went next door. Someone without PPD would naturally assume that the person was either finished with what they were doing, or that they wanted to be alone while they read/studied. The same for the South Asian woman who maybe also by then saw that you were on your computer and didn’t want to be around someone who would be typing while they read? I know I don’t like that. There are a number of other assumptions to make before coming to a conclusion without sufficient basis that these are attacks on your race.

    According to you in this blog and others, your co-workers are against you, other students are against you, teachers are against you, black people who don’t agree with your perception of racial relations in the United States are against you. It seems to be you against the world, no? It seems as though this paranoid thinking is consuming you and wearing you down mentally, physically, and emotionally.

    Normally, I would say that keeping a blog like this would be very healthy because it is a great way to work through the day’s events and what you have been experiencing. But, you seem to be using it as a platform to feed into the paranoia whether its through approval or “trolls” that only further your belief that everyone is out to get you.

    Please understand, I don’t believe that there is racism and that you have experienced it. I know there is racism and I know that you’ve experienced it. But, there is a balance where sometimes our perceptions start to deviate from reality in a way that is unhealthy and sometimes we just need someone to talk to that can help us work through that. Regrettably, if I’m right and you have PPD, you won’t seek help at all, you’ll find this to be a complete attack and assume that I’m a white supremacist out to curtail you from the truth that everyone is against you. Maybe someone in your family or friends will read this and maybe encourage you to talk to someone. We only have one life to live, and I truly hope you learn to enjoy it.

  4. ScottyB says:

    Excellent post.

  5. ib313 says:

    Microaggressions are a modern day fable of chicken little. The race to create urgent urgency about every real or perceived slight has simply made everyone tune it out. It’s the car alarm that goes off 3 times a day because it’s set so high.

    I’d feel sorry about it, but white privilege and all…