Racist microaggressions on campus: Small slights with a big impact

My boss was at a seminar recently where he met a University of Maryland journalism major who talked about her experiences as an African-American student on campus. One incident stood out, and my editor shared it with me. It involved a crude remark by a white roommate.

Protesters, students and media fill Traditions Plaza during a press conference following the Concerned Students 1950 protest on Monday, Nov. 9 2015, in Columbia, Mo. (Michael Cali/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Students at the University of Missouri alleged both overt and subtle racism occurs on campus.  (Michael Cali/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

With the focus now on racism on campus, both subtle and overt, I asked newly minted University of Maryland graduate Taylor Johnson to expand on what happened in an essay for the blog.

In the piece, Johnson uses a term that is being discussed a lot lately on America’s campuses: microaggressions. Microaggressions are comments, both intentional or unintentional, that casually degrade people.

In his book,”Microaggressions In Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation,” Columbia professor Derald Wing Sue says racism and sexism now often take a more covert form —  brief, everyday exchanges undergirded with denigrating messages.

Here is a good short video interview with Sue on how these small slights and indignities marginalize their targets. His research has shown microaggressions are more harmful and impactful than overt instances of racism.

What struck me about Johnson’s experience with her University of Maryland roommate was how unexpected and inexplicable the microaggression was, given the young women had congenial living arrangements.

By Taylor Johnson

“I didn’t mean to say it. It slipped.”

When someone uses that statement to explain a racial joke or insensitive remark, you can most likely assume it wasn’t a “slip.”

The words that come out of our mouths are thoughts in our minds that we consciously develop before we release them, whether jokingly or not. Being a member of a community made up of diverse races, ethnicities and cultures calls for more sensitivity from individuals even if you feel you are making a statement in secret. You never know who’s listening or how they will respond.

About to receive my diploma from the University of Maryland, I have been reflecting on memorable moments of my college career, both good and bad.  In the midst of high racial tensions in various communities and on college campuses, I thought back to when another black student, one of my four roommates at the time, and I experienced a microaggression from one of our two white roommates.

I never had a problem with any of my roommates. They seemed to be very nice girls and easy to live with. Until one Saturday night when my black roommate experienced an insensitive microaggression. It was fairly dark in the dorm room, so when our two roommates entered they could not tell she was there. One of them announced the room smelled of “black butthole.” They both  laughed, not knowing my roommate heard it all. Shocked and offended, she texted me about the incident.

I was taken aback. I am not an aggressive person, but I did want to talk to the roommate who made the comment and I wanted her to be truthful, apologize and learn from her actions.  When I returned to the dorm and she saw me, she started crying and going on and on about how she’s not racist and that what she said accidentally “slipped.”

I wonder if she grew so emotional out of guilt or because she didn’t want her character to be tarnished. She was a bright student and campus leader. I’m sure the last thing she wanted was to be seen in a negative light. Sadly, she couldn’t offer a real explanation for the vulgar remark. She kept repeating she was sorry and not racist.

I wasn’t sympathetic because I couldn’t accept something so crude could accidentally be uttered. I let her have her crying jag and forgave her in the end, but, of course, I have not forgotten. Beyond the incident, I didn’t feel uncomfortable living with her because she didn’t pose a threat to me. However, the next few days were awkward. There was still tension, but it diminished. However, she had lost my trust.

After we were no longer roommates, she would be extremely nice when we saw each other on campus and go the extra mile to make sure she spoke to me. It always felt awkward because the effort seemed ungenuine.

What gets me the most about the justification that something insensitive “slipped” is that if it were an accident there would be no reason to be so apologetic. Another thought: what made her feel that it was okay to say something so offensive aloud to her friend when she would never dare say such a thing if we were around?

Making jokes based on color and race is never acceptable. Such accidental “slips” can be taken to heart and could potentially yield a not-so-happy ending. It all comes down to the age-old saying, “Think before you speak.”

What may seem like a tiny microaggression speaks to a larger issue. Insensitive remarks in regards to race, whether blatant or subtle, remain common and must be brought under control.

 

Reader Comments 0

196 comments
OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lawrence Ross 

This is not a self-published book, as I originally thought, but has just come out from Macmillan Press. I intend to read it, for its promo states that it shows how "America's colleges have fostered a racist environment that makes them a hostile space for African American students." And Macmillan is a first-rate global press.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

 Much ado about a black college student who got her panties in a twist about a casual statement from one of her white roommates while engaged in a private conversation with each other.


Meanwhile, a white college student lost her life at the hands of a black assailant on New Year's morning.  Sara Mutschlechner. a twenty year old white female college student was shot in the head and killed New Year’s morning in Denton, Texas. She was driving three friends home from a party. A car with five or six black males pulled up next to her and made undisclosed statements. Then one of them shot Sara in the head. She was a student at the University of North Texas.

I find it disingenuous that the politically correct sociopaths in the "news media" will talk incessantly about "microagressions" by whites, but ignore the elephant in the room regarding black violence.  According to the Dept of Justice, 90% of the black/white interracial crime is committed by blacks against whites.  Interracial rape is most damning, with about 35,000 black on white rapes and about 10 white on black rapes.

But please, let's continue to talk about this black girl getting called a stinky butthole.

Starik
Starik

@Lee_CPA2 Damnit, here I am agreeing with Lee_CPA2 on something again.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Having never heard of "microaggressions" before all this "black lies movement" bullcrap, I did a quick look up.  Here are a few items that constitute a "microaggression":

  • Saying "I believe the most competent person should get the job."
  • Saying "America is the Land of Opportunity."
  • Opening the door for a woman.
  • Offering to help someone in a wheelchair.
  • Being forced to choose "Male" or "Female" when completing forms.
  • Even giving complements such as "Wow, you're really good at math."

The list goes on and on.   The bottom line is this;  if you go around looking for things to get p****d off about, you will find them.  Sorta like a self-fulfilling prophesy.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 

Source??

What matters is the way those sentences are delivered.

"The most competent person should get the job"..so minorities only get it because of Affirmative Action.

"America is the land of Opportunity"...so all minorities should do as well as white people.

"Let me open this door for you"...because women are too weak to do anything for themselves.

"Let me help you"...I always help those in wheelchairs since they can do nothing for themselves.

The job application is for a gender-neutral job.

"Wow, you're really good at math"...considering you're black.

Starik
Starik

@Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf OP, stop and think about the assumptions you're making.

Many minorities are competent to get the job. Because of Affirmative Action, a black person may be closely observed to see if they're an Affirmative Action hire or admit. Not fair to the qualified black person, who made it the right way. 


Minorities who are intelligent and work hard do very well on their own. Not all black drivers in expensive cars are sports stars and rappers. Again, an insult to successful black people. 


My mobility is growing limited; I'm grateful when people open a door for me. It's a courtesy, not an insult.  I had trouble recently getting up from a booth at Waffle House. A black employee helped me. I was not insulted. 


Maybe blacks have trouble with math, many women do. I had trouble with sports, I am athletic like a 'possum. Every has the right to be judged on what they can and can't do well.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik @Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf 

Starik, think about it. Lee gave us supposedly "non-offensive" sentences, and I was supplying the frequent verbal context in which they're offensive. 


It's simply offensive to imply that a minority person got his/her job because of Affirmative Action alone. That is what his sentence implied. All of those sentences he cited have negative implications about the groups to which the individual belongs. The language chosen implies the inferiority of the person addressed.



gactzn2
gactzn2

@Lee_CPA2 I would bet that for every black person who benefits from affirmative action, there are about 100 white people who benefit from white privilege- and in some instances- the "Peter Principle".  

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@gactzn2 @Lee_CPA2 

And don't forget that, legally, white women have won the majority of Affirmative Action lawsuits (gender discrimination and sexual harassment cases).

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @Starik @Lee_CPA2 Lee's comments are typical of him. Some black applicants (Not Asian ones) do get accepted and hired because of their race. Some whites and Asians are not accepted because of their race.  That's unacceptable to me.

Legong
Legong

When one tries this hard to find "slights" it's because there's a payoff for doing so. On a college campus "victim" status confers its own reward, and can enhance a degree in certain subject areas.

Even get your name in print.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Legong 

You haven't read the back posts, have you? Microaggression theory was first developed by a psychiatrist in 1970, although of course his point was that it has been a common feature of racism. The main "payoff" for detecting microaggressions is recognizing when racist behavior has been directed at oneself.


Your comments about college campuses and degrees only show you're familiar with neither.

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @Legong This is the latest trend in academia. It remains silly.  Microagression? This is Nanoagression. If you think this is racism you don't understand it. Did you grow up in the South?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik @OriginalProf @Legong 

I've heard about the concept of microaggressions since the late 1980s, and my black friends and colleagues have used that term since then too. All of them saw it as an insidious form of racism.

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up in NYC.  Believe me, I saw microaggressions all the time, though not necessarily directed at black people: Jews (many, many times), Italians (this was the 1950s-60s), Latino/a immigrants ("dirty" people). 


If you think this isn't racism, then you don't understand racism. It shows up in the small, reflexive kind of avoidance behavior that can be just as hurtful as the big contemptuous statements about black inferiority.  You've just never experienced it yourself (you posted earlier about your solely white European DNA) or noticed it.

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @Starik @Legong Yep, European, even the Neanderthal. Immigrants from our beginnings in Africa. All of us. I grew up in the South. I know what real racism is, because I saw it and, when old enough, came to despise it.  That's real racism.

Legong
Legong

OP: There's nothing at all small or reflexive about the blatant racism and misogyny found in popular hip-hop songs. But the only criticism they'll ever get from you will be of the fig leaf sort, right?

geduncanjr
geduncanjr

Ms. Johnson had every right to be offended. She says that she forgave her roommate "in the end." Her essay, however is an excellent example of what true forgiveness is and what it isn't. True forgiveness is difficult.  It is giving up the right to be offended.  It is recognizing that all humans have flaws; most of us have serious flaws.  Forgiveness involves tolerating the flaws for the sake of the relationship.  Forgiveness is recognizing that the discomfort shown by the other person just may be a sign that the other person doesn't actually feel forgiven rather than that the person maintains hidden animus. True forgiveness involves getting over the "me" in the situation.  Forgiveness may not always involve forgetting, but I am not sure that it involves publishing essays on the incident months if not years after the fact.


Whether the microaggression is a pardonable or unpardonable transgression is something which Ms. Johnson will have to decide. I feel, however, that it is evident that her failure to truly forgive her roommate and her decision to remain offended is more destructive to her than it is to her former roommate.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@geduncanjr 

Or the incident simply corroborates all of her suspicion and mistrust of white people..."that's what they're really like."  Freud has a lot to say about "slips," verbal "accidents" that reveal the traumatic truth in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. And when that happens, maybe one shouldn't forgive those individuals who have pretended not to be bigoted but are.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@geduncanjr Unfortunately, these microaggressions can easily transition into macroaggressions.  It is great to turn the other cheek and be forgiving,  but the statement that she made was intolerable.  Her written recollections are reflections, and not evidence of unforgiveness.  Even if she did forgive them, it does not mean that she should not convey her story.  

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @geduncanjr It seems that the writer harbors "suspicion and mistrust of white people. Isn't that racism? Can't we be individuals?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik @OriginalProf @geduncanjr 

What can I say? That suspicion and mistrust of white people seems to have come from how white people have behaved toward them...such as these two white room-mates. This essay shows how the suspicion starts. Yes, much black reaction to white people here in the South seems racist in that it is a reaction to the white race...but I can see so well what created that reaction. Frankly, to me it seems like a sensible, protective defense against a lot of pain that those whites have caused them. The dismissive "neo-Confederate" (thanks Ralph43) bloggers here illustrate that so well.

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @Starik @geduncanjr Every group has grievances against another group. Because of anti-Semitism Many Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 40s were refused visas to the US, and were gassed.  It's wise to concentrate on the present, and individual people.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

 "‘They [blacks] secrete less by the kidnies, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour.’"


Ten bonus points to those who can identify the author of that quote. ( Hint:  he signed the Declaration of  Independence.)

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@gactzn2 @Lee_CPA2

Why did I share it?  I just like to toss a stick and watch the yapping dogs chase after it.  Congrats on being #1.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Lee_CPA2 Stupid people signed the Declaration of Independence too.  That is so ignorant.  Many stereotypes regarding "odor" abound regarding both blacks and whites.  Not sure why you shared it- but of course I would be shocked if you provided a FULLER discussion that included ALL stereotypes or at least those related to yourself- but you would never do that would you. 

gactzn2
gactzn2

@OriginalProf @gactzn2 @Lee_CPA2 Orignal Prof- it saddens me that Georgia- being a city on a hill for so many- remains stuck, from an attitudinal perspective, in eras long gone.  People hide behind their statistics- offend entire races and don't expect a response, because they are brainwashed by FAUX NEWS.  That is the smugness of it all- and that STINKS to high heavens. 

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @OriginalProf @Lee_CPA2 Fox news is certainly part of the problem. People from the right wing of the right wing get tons of reinforcement from the News According to Fox. And then there's the internet. What you believe can find support in "news." 


The same happens on the left wing of the left wing. That's reinforced by this blog entry, internet, and left wing outlets. 


If the BLM demonstrators could direct their energies toward reforming the police to the point that all cops are good cops they'd accomplish something, with some support from people in the middle. 


Black butthole indeed. Raising an uproar over a few stupid words, or over the poop-swastika on the shower wall in Missouri does no good and alienates the center. the right wing of the left wing and the left wing of the right wing.  Pity we don't have a third party in the center.


AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

"Until one Saturday night when my black roommate experienced an insensitive microaggression. It was fairly dark in the dorm room, so when our two roommates entered they could not tell she was there. One of them announced the room smelled of “black butthole.” They both  laughed, not knowing my roommate heard it all"


1) Maybe the black roommate was regularly gassy?  Some folks are, maybe even some African-Americans.


2) If the white girls didn't know the black roommate was there, how was this "aggression"?  Don't I need a victim around in order to take aggressive actions against him/her?  At worst (if #1 above is not the case), the offending roommate committed 'thought-crime': her true nature, which apparently she had taken pains to consistently conceal, was finally revealed.


3) Why why why would the black roommate do anything other than contemptuously think "racist idiot"?  If the white roommate was a closet racist, why look to her for validation/acceptance.


OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@AlreadySheared 

1. I don't think the comment was directed at flatulence but the innate disgusting smell of black people such as the 2 black room-mates.


2.  They all are room-mates, which means they have to live together. The two white room-mates have always acted warm and friendly toward the two black ones. (Think, the two Nazi room-mates have always acted friendly toward the two Jewish ones.) Isn't revealed hatred and contempt an aggression? 


3.  Ever hear of confrontation instead of passive silence as a response to insulting? Especially when the insulter has a public facade of being a mealy-mouthed do-gooder? And most especially when they all still have to live together as room-mates?

gactzn2
gactzn2

@AlreadySheared Let's not act as if we are pollyannas- 
1.) What they said was racist- "black butthole" and not just "butthole"- I would think that both are unpleasant

2.)The aggressive actions create the victim- definitely not a chicken and egg thing; they assume blacks don't see it- but then...Gotcha. Let me suggest the reading:

Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage 1st Edition by Leslie Picca (Author), Joe Feagin (Author)- looks at how some whites behave in all white  or majority white settings (i.e.- microaggressions)


3.) Confronting is not an act that seeks validation but one which seeks clarity and understanding.  If I know what side of the fence you stand on- I then know how to treat you.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@OriginalProf @AlreadySheared This young lady handled the situation well considering that she was uncomfortable with what she heard- I don't think I would have been so nice- for the rest of the semester.  The offending students would have had to request a room change had it been me. Happy New Year's Everyone!!!!

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @AlreadySheared Correct. I like to know what people really think. The correct response would be to laugh and make some comment like "At least I don't have brown stains around mine" or, if you can't bring yourself to do that, "What the hell are you talking about? Explain yourself."

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@OriginalProf  I'm not giving up on the smell idea. For most of my undergraduate years in college, I lived in an off-campus apartment.  For a year or so, one of my roommates was a bona fide African from one of Africa's former French colonies.  "Phillipe" was a good guy and a fine roommate, but was rather more continental than American with respect to hygiene: he showered roughly once a week and got by the rest of the week on daily splashes of cologne.  


So yeah, if he was in the room or even had recently BEEN in the room, you knew it.


OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@AlreadySheared @OriginalProf 

But these were two American young women in college, and presumably used to American standards in hygiene.  And then there is that ugly, specific phrase "black butt-hole"....

Ralph-43
Ralph-43

The neo-Confederates will continue to attempt to elevate themselves in society by voicing and practicing these minor indignities.  They are succeeding in marginalizing themselves and will be progressively less successful in all aspects of their lives including income and honors.  Bye-bye neo-Confederates.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

Well I feel better now that I got the anti-microaggression vacunation no more microaggression attacks for me

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

"Microaggressions" is a well-known term, first coined around 1970 by the psychiatrist and Harvard professor Chester Pierce, that means the insults and dismissals regularly seen on the part of non-African Americans toward African-Americans. I've heard it since the 1980s. Examples are to be found throughout this blog-thread.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microaggression_theory

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

Are you sure that was not Slipper Rock professor Dr. Rufus Whodunnits?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik @OriginalProf 

I doubt he will be. He was the first African-American full professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, and is past-president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the American Orthopsychiatric Association. He's also a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @Starik I respect his achievements. The microagression theory, which appears to apply only to blacks, is racist nonsense.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@OriginalProf

""Microaggressions" is a well-known term, ...."


Uh, no.  Maybe in the pretentious world of academia where egghead types sit around and try to come up with fancy, multi-syllable words to impress each other, but out here in the "real world", most of us never heard of the term until it began to get bandied about with all the "black lies movement".

Likewise, most of us don't care about some college kid who got her panties all in a bunch because her roommate called her a stinky butt.


OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik @OriginalProf 

Of course blacks are not the only racial/ethnic group to experience "microaggressions." Asians have known them well, ever since World War 2 when we fought Japan and there were all the innuendos about "chinks" and "Japs" and anyone "slant-eyed." Then again after the Vietnam War there were the comments implying that all Vietnamese (or Pacific Rim Asians generally) in this country were "boat people." More recently, it's the hostile comments about the Asians who always score high grades and "crowd out" the "real Americans" in the universities.


Hispanics too are certainly familiar with microaggressions.  "What country did you come from?" Hispanic-Americans are asked, and questions assuming they are really poor barefoot Latinos from Mexico or Central America who slipped across our border.


If you think the theory of microaggressions is "racist nonsense," it's because you belong to the majority white race and have never experienced them.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@gactzn2 @Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf

Ah yes, "white privilege".  Another term coined by the politically correct to try to explain why blacks cannot seem to function in a Western Society.

Very similar to "micro aggression" in that it is more a figment of someone's imagination than something finite.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf What is that I smell? Sniff Sniff- Oh smells like white privilege Lee. Why should anyone expect YOU of all people to understand.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Lee_CPA2 @gactzn2 @OriginalProf I am black and function just fine- of course- I may pull your coat tail when your white privilege clouds your judgement and causes you to do, say, and write things that are not a "credit to your race". But I digress- on this blog- it may be the opposite.

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @Starik I live in Fulton County, which is 48% white, 46% black and 2% mixed race. There;s little or no majority,  I moved from DeKalb, which is black majority.  Are you broad-minded enough to consider the possibility of microagression against non-blacks?

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 @Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf I have not benefited from it.  Have earned all that I have.  I have however seen white privilege at its worst when the Peter Principle is at play. No, I cannot say I benefited.  My work and performance speaks for itself.  As to whether someone "white" and "in charge" wants to acknowledge that- well that is a different story altogether- lies by omission abound.

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik @Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf You are to be congratulated. If you get a good job or are admitted to a very selective university on your own individual merit, people may worry that you are a marginally qualified beneficiary of Affirmative Action. This is an insult to you and your achievements.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 @Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf Again, people like Lee will automatically assume that it is because of affirmative action, not because I actually scored higher than the average- but again- I truly could care less what anyone thinks, it is when they presuppose and act as "if" it is a fact when it is not and fashion microagressions like your comment above- "marginally talented"- who cares what you think or assume?