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Happy Black History Month!

By Raegan Quattlebaum

This post will be the first of many in a series I’d like to call The Young, The Black, and The Professional, where I will be discussing my experience as a young black professional in a white dominated space and city.

Who is this for?

Today’s message is specifically for my fellow people of color (POC) who encounter microaggressions in their daily lives. However, ff you don’t identify as a POC, don’t worry. This message applies to you too. That’s the beauty of our intersectional identities!

I promise that most people will be able to relate to some part of this post.

Who am I?

I’d first like to share that I identify as a Black, heterosexual, cis-woman. Along with those identities I am able-bodied and an American citizen. I think that is important for you to know this context. Although I hold some marginalized identities, I also hold some privileged identities. We all play a part in privilege and oppression.

Let’s talk about microaggressions.

In addition to the identities shared above, I’m also the youngest at my current job . . . and have been the youngest in pretty much every job I have had.

After my first few jobs, I was pretty comfortable with being the youngest. In fact, it made me confident proud that I was accomplishing so much at a young age.

As I got older, I worked my way up to top earning titles such as supervisor and assistant manager, and was put as a lead for certain projects. I was still the youngest member on these teams, and the feelings I once had of being proud of myself and my hard work were replaced by shame of my age and the feeling of not belonging.

I was receiving backlash because they way people perceived me didn’t quite fit what they deemed as “acceptable” for my position. My age, together with my race and gender, were apparently all the invitation people needed to lay on the microaggressions.

“You’re such a baby!”

“There aren’t many of YOU in this field, am I right!”

“Oh yeah, I can see you as a teacher, women are good at that kind of stuff.”

“You’re too young to make that decision on your own.”

“You are our diversity!”

[Image Description: GIF of a black woman with her eyes closed, rubbing her temples as an expression of frustration or stress]
[Image Description: GIF of a black woman with her eyes closed, rubbing her temples as an expression of frustration or stress]

So what exactly are microaggressions?

[Image description: A cartoon woman makes a frustrated facial expression while dozens of tiny knives are sticking into her head and shoulders.]

Dictionary.com defines a microaggression as “indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.”

At Building Bridges, we describe microaggressions as little tiny cuts. They may seem small, but they add up and hurt like hell.

What damage can microaggressions have?

  • Over time, microaggressions can impact how you view yourself and make you feel like you aren’t skilled enough or worthy enough for your position
  • Because they are rooted in internalized bias and stereotypes, microaggressions can affect how the people around you see you
  • And ultimately, this type of hurtful behavior contributes to the larger systems of oppression against marginalized identities

So how do we deal?

I have had to learn how to battle against micro-aggressive language and behavior, and the fight continues. In honor of Black History Month – and as a young, black professional – I want to share my top 5 tips on how I deal with daily microaggressions. I’d like to help my community.

Now this is not to say that there is only one right way to address microaggressions, or that it’s your responsibility to always address all microaggressions. But if it’s a situation where you feel a strong desire to let another person know that their words or behavior hurt, these are some of the tools have helped me in the past 5 years.

Raegan’s best practices for addressing microaggressions.

  1. Address the micro-aggressive behavior sooner rather than later. This could be intimidating to do, especially if the aggressor is someone who may hold power over you (i.e. a boss, teacher, parent etc). Allow yourself enough space to process and reflect, but don’t wait too long to where the moment has passed.
  2. Approach the behavior by calling the aggressor in. The choice to call someone in or out may depend on the action and/ or your relationship with that individual. Calling in may wok best if the aggressor is a peer or someone you interact with frequently. It lets the other person know that you care about your relationship and them as a person, while recognizing that we all make mistakes. Calling in allows for a discussion instead of an accusation.
  3. Use I-statements. I believe that the best way to get someone to understand where you’re coming from and how you feel is to use I-statements. This approach centers your true feelings, makes it personal, and avoids generalizations. Instead of saying “Some people could feel uncomfortable if you comment on their hair texture,” say “I felt uncomfortable when you commented on my hair texture.” I promise, that small change can make the world of a difference.
  4. Have compassion towards the aggressor. When I say have compassion, I don’t mean excuse the micro-aggression. I mean try to cultivate empathy, especially given that we each likely hold both marginalized and privileged identities. Try to think of a time when you committed a microaggression towards someone else. How did you feel when you realized what you did and how it made the other person feel? Usually microaggressions are done unintentionally and the aggressor might need space and support to deal with their oppressive behavior.

This last tip is for my allies.

  • If you are wondering what to do and how you can help, start with the people around you! The best way to be an ally to POC or any marginalized group of people is to start conversations around anti-oppression with the people you love and trust. And if your circle currently looks a whole lot like you, start with asking the internet. There are so many incredible writers posting their thoughts and experiences about what it’s like to live with a marginalized identity. Google it and start reading!

These tips aren’t going to eliminate all of the micro-aggressive behaviors of the world, but it is a great place to start.

What are some things you do to address micro-aggressive behavior? Have you been the aggressor before? Leave a comment down below and let’s talk about it!

Stay safe this Black History Month!

Raegan

By Chris Kindred for HuffPost  [Image description: An illustration of raised fists, each a different shade of brown skin, many holding objects such as pencils, chemistry beakers, and books. The middle fist is largest, surrounded by a golden flame.  Above are the words "Black History Built This" and the background is comprised of large swaths of red, black, and green.]
By Chris Kindred for HuffPost [Image description: An illustration of raised fists, each a different shade of brown skin, many holding objects such as pencils, chemistry beakers, and books. The middle fist is largest, surrounded by a golden flame. Above are the words “Black History Built This” and the background is comprised of large swaths of red, black, and green.]

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