“Is That Your Real Hair?” And Other Microaggressions

When I moved out to the midwest, I had no idea what to expect. If someone were to ask me what I thought it would be like, I’d ignorantly say fields full of corn, farmers with straw hats and plaid; lots and lots of plaid. Obviously that isn’t true. St. Louis is a major metropolitan city! But unlike the ones I’ve called home in the past, I deal with a lot of microaggressions here.

Simply put, a microaggression is behavior that unconsciously or consciously insults a marginalized group. I’ve tried to write it off as a lack of knowledge or unintentional ignorance on our white counterparts, but it happens so frequently that this subtle form of prejudice is literally driving me insane. Here’s three things I wish white people would stop doing.

Stop saying “I don’t see color”

I am a woman. I am also black and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When you say you don’t see that very important part of me, it isn’t a compliment. Not seeing the color of my skin pretty much erases my identity, my culture and the way I experience the world. Look, no matter how dismissive you may want to be about race/racism, it still exists. Seeing color isn’t bad. Judging someone based on that one premise is. (Also isn’t it funny how the same person who’ll go on and on about not seeing color will quickly mention that one black friend they have if someone even hints at them being racist? Hmm.) Which leads me to the next thing.

Stop mixing black people up with each other.

There are three black women on my team at work, including myself. Even though there’s a small number of us, coworkers constantly confuse one of us for the other. We don’t look anything alike. We have different styles of hair and body types yet every morning I am called by someone else’s name. It isn’t a isolated incident, even clients would do it. When you can’t tell the difference between a few black women but have no problem identifying the 30+ other white ones on the team, there’s a issue. (side note:I read an article about the other race effect” that kind of explains why this is a thing. To sum it up, it basically says that if you spend most of your time with only people of your own race, you’ll have issues identifying people from other cultures/ those who do not look like you. It’s a cool read if you have a second.)

Stop denying your privilege. 

When you go to a salon to get your hair done, you can almost guarantee that everyone in the salon is knowledgable in regards to your hair type. If you go to a makeup artist, you don’t worry about that person having the right shade of foundation. These are both privileges. When people hear the word privilege, they get on the defensive. I’ve had to work for everything I own! Nothing was ever handed to me! Privilege doesn’t always have to pertain to wealth. Having constant and multifaceted representation of your race in society and media is privilege. Being apart of the dominant group is a privilege. There’s no reason to feel guilt when these points are brought up because honestly, we all benefit from privilege in some way. But how can we level the playing field if there is a denial of it being tilted towards one groups advantage?? (Franchesca Ramsey talks about privilege a lot better than me on MTV’s Decoded.)

Some microaggressions are so subtle that neither parties may realize what is going on. The stranger who asked me if my hair was real (and was shocked when I told her yes) probably didn’t think anything of asking such a question, but I am left feeling as if I am abnormal. I have a feeling if I was another race, I wouldn’t of been asked that.

Have you found yourself on the receiving end of a microaggression? Let’s chat.

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  1. I also hate the “are you x,y,z race” because obviously I can’t JUST be black. There’s so much anti blackness in that statement alone.

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