Columbusing the Old Neighborhood, Part 1

I have quite a few fond memories of traveling into Downtown Los Angeles as a kid. Its not very far from my home but add in LA traffic and it is a mess. But on a weekend, we could be down there in 15 minutes. So it’s a place we frequented often. Sometimes it was to go to the “alley,” where you could buy cheap ANYTHING. Mostly, we went for clothes. The flower market down there is where we bought all the flowers for my parents’ vowel renewal when I was in the sixth grade. There’s a place called Moskatels, which is basically heaven to me – it’s like a Michael’s outlet – where I dream of the crafty Etsy store I will someday open and where you can buy giant ornaments the size of my head for a dollar.

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One of my most favorite places to go was always Grand Central Market. I used to love hearing my dad reminisce of his trips to the market when he was a boy. He and his family (a family of 8) lived well below the poverty line and Grand Central was a great place to buy produce to feed so many people on such a small income. For me, the best part was the amazing Mexican food you could get and find a corner to eat in. Bustling with tons of brown folks, Grand Central Market is not far from the many historically significant Mexican sites in Downtown LA (Olvera Street is still standing and Linda Cielito is a go to for taquitos if you need a suggestion). These were my people and people my family seemed comfortable around.

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Seeing as I have spent many of my adult years not in LA and instead trying to find the brown folks where I live (shout out to Little Mexico in South Bend!), I was painfully unaware of the changes that were happening in my beloved little haven. Shortly after my return from Colorado a year and a half ago, the Expo line opened connecting the Westside (Santa Monica, Culver City, etc. = expensive) to Downtown. Given that parking in DTLA had always been a struggle, I thought the Expo was a great addition to avoid the parking fees (although free parking on Sundays at Grand Central and Moskatels! Hey! – But not anymore. Sad face). However, clearly the Expo was put in to connect the wealthy people to the brown part of town. Well off folks have started to move into Downtown creating a “hip and trendy” downtown and commuting to the Westside in a more environmentally sustainable manner. And folks who can afford to live on the Westside are heading into Downtown for weekend events.

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I do think there is something about creating a place for entertainment or embracing the cultural beauty that has long-existed in a city. However, the “improvements” have not benefited the folks who have called this place home since it was Mexico but is instead making housing prices too expensive for them to afford and columbusing the places in which they once conducted business.

I have used the Expo line to avoid the exorbitant parking pricing at an LA Rams game, to go to an old library operating out of an old bank vault, and to attend LA’s second annual Dessert Week this past fall. After leaving on a sugar induced high, my parents and I headed on foot to Grand Central for our beloved sopes covered in only the very best toppings and Mexican meats. Immediately my dad said something about all the White people followed very closely by “THEY SERVE BEER HERE?!” You see, Grand Central has less of a market-feel these days (I only spotted two produce stands) and instead seems to have been taken over by trendy craft beer, specialty bagels, organic ice cream, and yes, free wifi.

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Definitely not the food of Brown folks

Luckily, our favorite Mexican food storefront was still standing and we ate until our bellies were full thoroughly confused as to what was happening around us. We tipped the women who made our food. She seemed surprised. So, the folks who have columbused a place I love also do not tip the folks who make their food – this was once customary particularly knowing wages at these ma and pop places were not enough to pay the bills.

I think there is certainly a right way to bring communities together to share in the rich cultural history a city was founded on but erasing the very people responsible for that history is not the way to do it. Sadly, the place my dad went with his dad to pick produce early in the mornings no longer exists. I can only hope my favorite food stand will be there whenever I am able to travel out their next. We need to hold on to as much as we can in a climate that values conformity to the norm more that embracing our uniqueness.

International Womxn’s Day 2017

There is a blog post circulating today that points out how woman-heavy our field is and yet, Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAOs) are overwhelmingly men.

I just need to go on a minor rant. My institution requires employees take a winter holiday. However, they do not offer this as paid time. So, in my first month of work, I was required to borrow against my future vacation time. And so, today, in March, I still do not have any vacation time because I am still trying to replenish what I used for the winter closure. This is an incredibly long-winded road to say I was unable to take today off. As a newer employee, I am not in a position to cause waves by taking a day off without pay. I know there are plenty of other folks who wanted to strike in solidarity but for circumstances beyond their control, that was not a viable action today.

Instead, I wore the brightest red pants I own that are still work appropriate.

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I love my field. I love the people in my field and the lengths to which many of us will go to advocate for those on the margins of our campus and society as a whole. However, I must acknowledge those folks do not exist everywhere – certainly not at the places I have worked since leaving Colorado State.

Today, I was the only one who wore red – the only one showing solidarity in any way.

And then I sat through a rather long staff meeting. I wished everyone a “Happy International Women’s Day” – no one knew what I was talking about. I met our own SSAO for the first time. I have heard him speak before. He is always very candid about his background. I am not sure if he is trying to beat us to the punch of recognizing his lack of student affairs experience.

It is refreshing to see a black man in such a position. However, in LA, I have found that diversity of race and ethnicity are the norm. What I find so curious is that this man, a former student-athlete at my place of employment, former practicing lawyer – while clearly competent and experienced in his field – is our SSAO while I know of other student affairs professionals on this campus who have worked in our field for 15, 20, 30 years and have not seen and will not see those kinds of positions open to them.

I am coming to learn that even in student affairs, a field that seemingly appreciates social justice work, is not always the most welcoming place for everyone. And finding places to work where values and behaviors are congruent are outliers and not what I should expect on this journey – at least not outside the state of Colorado.

To end on a positive note I’d like to say thank you to the womxn, men, trans*, and gender non-conforming folks in my life and on my newsfeeds who did something today to show the immense power of those who face gender-related bias and oppression every day. Your quotes, pictures, live videos remind me that despite an ignorant work place – there are folks out there who get me and are ready to fight the good fight.

Things that bring me joy: Get out (leave! Right now)

Since the Orange Tangerine and his merry band of Hateful Nonsense™ has been added to the already daily dose of constant isms I face as a female member of team Black n’ Gay, the list of topics I’ve wanted to write about has gone through the roof. In an attempt to clear out my draft list, I created a rule for myself: I wouldn’t write new things unless I finished a few old posts.

And then, last Tuesday, I went out to see Get Out. A movie is so good, it currently has a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This, coupled with the fact that I have no discipline and I write what I want, is why we’re here.

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I have a sh*tton to say, and there will probably be spoilers. #sorrynotsorry

Before we get started, I want to acknowledge the joy of seeing this movie surrounded by my friends of color, and 50 other Black people in Tacoma. There is no greater bonding experience than a whole theatre full of POCs cheering on a Black man curbstomp a racist dude bro on his way out to survival. Jordan Peele and his incredible brain brought the community together.

Get Out is one of the most brilliant films of this year. There is no way around this fact. I hate horror films, yet I would go see Get Out again. And write a dissertation on it. But maybe not in Naperville, because I can’t go to my childhood hometown anymore. Or many of my friend’s homes. When I say I walked into work the next day suspicious as hell. I love my coworkers, but I’m going to need proof of safety exits and three references from Black women who made it out alive before I can go back to my boss’ house. (Ashleigh’s note: If you go to your boss’s house, TELL ME!)

The beauty of horror films is their ability to add some plausibility to the audience. We are scared not just because certain elements are terrifying, but because somewhere in the back of our mind, we can imagine pieces of the movie happening to us. And one of reasons Get Out is such a great horror film is because it is so stepped in realism: specifically for Black people and people of color, it accurately portrays the spectrum of racism that we experience on a daily basis. Literally the only fake thing was the psychosis+extreme sci-fi mind control. 89-96% of this scary movie is literally Black people’s experiences with White folks.

Example: If you haven’t had the privilege of being the only person of color at a function (while, in your identity development, woke enough to realize the racial tension that comes with being greatly outnumbered by White people), let me break it down for you: it is an uncomfortable feeling. At best, the majority of the White people you’re around are those you trust and somewhat vouch for their ability to engage in allyship, so you can at least enjoy your friends’ company as you stick out like a sore thumb.  At worst, you’re around multiple people you don’t know, and your only coping options are to finish your presentation/sit in the back and pray no one notices you/get so drunk you forget your own name, until you’re able to leave the speech/conference/wedding/shower.

The party scene in Get Out captured all this so eloquently, and brought me back to the times that, either by my own doing or out of my control, I was the only brown person in the room. A note to many of my White friends and exes: you have taken me to spaces like this. Multiple times. And even if you’ve tried to make as comforting as possible, it’s still weird. Especially if there’s 10,000 White eyes on me, and a lot of microaggressional-questions about my body/hair/upbringing/skin/name. I love you. But still.

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Yaaaaaaaay.

I have never had a horror movie speak so accurately into my soul. And that is just ONE SCENE with ONE THEME to unpack. Not to even talk about the prevalence of White woman tears and toxic White women feminism and fakeness.  And their obsession with thinking Black men are/need to be obsessed with them (*eHEM*). Or the analogy of cultural appropriation, and White folks wanting so bad to be us without wanting to be us. Or the assimilation to White culture, and ignoring other Black people.  Or the perfect analogies of the sunken place. Or or or or, or or, or. I haven’t even scratch the surface.

To me, Get Out feels iconic for a few different reasons. I think about the unapologetic way it captures White liberalism. Which is probably why the movie has a few White people mad: it holds the mirror up not only to the explicitly racist Neo-Nazis of our time, but to White moderates who tell you they’ve voted for Obama and drop 2-5 microaggressions in the same breathe. It calls out “well meaning White folks,” and shows that, unchecked, they too, can be racist. We’re at a place where “well meaning White folks” society stresses out about Black millennials voting the right way and then turns around AND VOTES FOR TRUMP. Or where “well meaning White” woman get mad because a women’s march acknowledges intersecting identities and offended when asked if we’ll see them at the next #BlackLivesMatter march (fun fact: apparently “nice White lady” is a slur). To be “well meaning” is not enough. And Get Out stresses this point perfectly.

Get Out is also powerful because a Black person defeated the odds and made it out of the house. As we know, often times, that’s not how the story ends. And I’m not even talking about other horror movies. Around the same time Get Out was released, 18-year-old Ben Keita was found hung in the woods near Seattle. 24-year-old Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond was shot multiple times in Chicago and was misgendered in the news. And then, less than a few days later, 31-year-old Chyna Doll Dupree was shot in New Orleans (and misgendered in the news), And then, less than a few days later, 25-year-old Ciara McElveen was stabbed in New Orleans (and misgendered in the news). Get Out is not a tool to forget about these individuals, but gives us a narrative that we as Black folks don’t get to hear often: a Black person, in the presence of several White people that wanted to harm them, ESCAPED. There is power in that statement, a storyline that we don’t hear enough in real life.

Honestly, Get Out is the movie we need and deserve. Beyond the fact that it gave us a lot of material for hilarious tweets (my favorites being the ones that give a shout-out to Rod from TSA), it does a great job of calling out Whiteness and allowing folks to see what it’s like to be the only Black person in a room, all while being witty, smart, and real as hell.

Neither steel nor iron, but flesh and blood

As humans, our beautiful bodies are made up of 70% water. Prick us, and we bleed plasma and cells. And although a few of people hardly get sick (note: this is not me, but I’ve heard of you magical unicorns before), no one body is indestructible. We all need a break from time to time.

I say this to remind everyone: Black women’s bodies are not unbreakable.

Three weeks ago in North Carolina, a Black girl, a middle schooler, was caught fighting. Or she was caught trying to break up the fights. There are different accounts. What I do know, what we all know, after seeing footage, is that a school officer came over, lifted her off the table, and slammed her to the ground. That is not an exaggeration. He slammed her like she was a rag doll, an item in the war against middle school fights. She later suffered a concussion.

It’s been 24 whole days, but I haven’t been able to put that image out of my head. It plays in my brain–this grown man, slamming a child to the ground. It reminds me of the Black women who, a few years ago, was thrown to the floor from her desk by a cop. And it disgusts me to my core. Even if this girl was the most frustrating shit-talker, even if she was leading the modern-day French revolution at her middle school..for what? That man has a good 75 pounds on her at least. Picking her up alone was not okay, but he could have done only that. Why did he feel the need to slam her?

Unfortunately, this isn’t new, and we know this will continue not to be new.

We live in a world where our bodies are disposable, casual objects. When we face police brutality, we may not only be murdered, but others will forget to say our names. If we don’t die, we are chased at pool parties and sat on. If we are sexually assaulted or harassed, we are mere Jezebels, our bodies “asking for it,” especially if the perpetrators are White men. God forbid if the perpetrators are White men. We are kicked in grocery stores, ignored when we need help in public places but shoved when we are “a nuisance.” Our hairs are chia pets, yankable in the eyes of non-Black folk. We are spat on or spat near for wearing a hijab or a dashiki or for speaking our languages. We are grabbed and pushed and pulled up–and this starts in elementary school. Hands are laid on us, and not just in church. And if a woman is Black and trans, we know violence is more likely to happen- 17 reported times in 2016, to be exact.

Often, and always, the breaking moves past our physical bodies: We will speak up against injustice, online or in person, either in the most blunt or passive way, and people will find a way to invalidate our experiences, or call us “irrational” or explain “what is or isn’t a big deal” (in fact, if someone does this with this article, congratulations: you are the annoying prophecy I predicted). We will be told we are untrained, or thieves, or dumb, even if we’re actually doctors (no, really, yes, we are). Or just trying to shop peacefully in Victoria’s Secret. Or demanding to be seen for our brilliance. We will be told we can walk home alone because “Black women are un-rapeable,” we will be called everything but n****r in college (and I do mean everything), our names will be stripped away from its native tongue and butchered and we’ll be told our beautiful string of consonants and vowels are “hard to pronounce” or “too ghetto.” 

And yes, to anyone ready to question–some of this, from the physical threats to the emotional dismissal–includes me. Although I am “soft,” I, by virtue of being Black and being woman, I know what it’s like to be seen and treated as “unbreakable.”

At times, we may be loud, angry, tired, sleepy, strong, sassy, and/or upset, but that doesn’t give others licence to treat our bodies like trash. These are, in fact, human emotions and traits that everyone possesses, demonized in us because it is easy to demonize Black folks and it is easy to demonize women, so naturally, “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.”

We have got to do better. I think about the work I need to do, from making it a point to #SayHerName (and be active on Kimberle Crenshaw’s #SayHerName site), to constantly working against my cissexism and remembering trans and non-binary Black women in the fight for honoring our bodies. But I, and other Black women, are not the only ones who have to roll up their sleeves. Beyond recognizing this country is built on the backs of Black women, non-Black folks and Black men need to do the work with us, and give us space to tell our stories. And damn, we need justice for Black girls in schools, girls who are not only seen as problems but are manhandled instead of the humans they are.

#IntelligenceSoWhite

This fall has been an absolute shit show. I’m sure at some point we’ll get to the giant orange elephant in the corner, but we’re just not there yet. So, I would like to address some other shittiness that occurred in the last few months.

The first was the story of a Black Woman DOCTOR bad-ass who was on a Delta flight when medical assistance was needed. Of course a flight attendant found it impossible that a Black Woman MD existed. To read the full encounter and see why I won’t fly Delta ever again, click here.

I do want to acknowledge that good things can come out of these super shitty situations THAT ACTUAL PEOPLE – HUMAN BEINGS – have to live through.

In this case, Black women took over twitter with the hashtag #WhataDoctorLooksLike

Here are some of the amazing shots captured…

Then a few weeks later, an academic paper made online headlines as the result of a student of color sharing her instructors feedback. Ugh…

I wish these were isolated instances but they are not and so many women (and men) of color face them on a daily basis at thousands of university campuses.

My first instance of this (that I can remember) came in my junior year of HIGH SCHOOL. I had an incredibly challenging English teacher. It was the first time I struggled in an English class (if we don’t count the extra reading comprehension class I had to take in the second grade). He wanted us to think outside of the box. This should be the tell of a great instructor, one that was actually preparing me for college. I felt like maybe I had finally thought of something. I analyzed the Scarlet Letter through the lens that Hester Prynne was treated exactly as we treat teenage girls who get pregnant while attending a Catholic high school. I got a C, which was even lower than my previous grades in the class – a hard pill to swallow for a straight A student. I was told my writing would make a great sociological paper but not an English one. Fair enough (at least I think so today – at the time I wanted more guidance).

So for my next paper on the Great Gatsby, I met with my instructor regularly. I was going to get this right this time. I eventually settled on the topic of wardrobe in the story. I talked to him about the language that was used to describe the outfit choices of the different characters. He thought it was a great idea but encouraged me to focus in a bit more. I narrowed in on Myrtle Wilson’s three outfits in a single chapter to show her want to be a part of the money world but used the author’s language to show she was a fraud. The colors and fabrics of her dresses were analyzed as being symbolic of dirt and greed. When it was done, I remember being impressed with myself. It was unlike anything I had ever written before – again the signs of a good class.

However, that feeling was fleeting. I was out of town in the State’s capitol meeting with the Board of Education regarding the implementation of No Child Left Behind in the State of California (I say that because of the irony in what happens next). So, a friend turned in my paper for me. When I returned to campus, I was handed my paper with 100 at the top and the phrase, “Now that’s how you do it” in the instructor’s signature block letters. But he also told me to stay after class.

My mind was racing but I thought he was just going to have a conversation about the work I had done and how the next time I’d have to do it without meeting with him. Instead, the first words out of his mouth were,

“this isn’t your work.”

“Excuse me? I don’t understand.”

“You didn’t write this.”

“I did.”

“You plagiarized.”

“I didn’t.”

I can still remember this so vividly. He had helped me. He knew my work. Worse off he had no interest in reporting it. He was going to let it go. But I wouldn’t let a teacher or a department smear my name for the remainder of my time in high school. I had hopes of going to college, I didn’t want other teachers thinking I was unethical in my academics. I was stunned. I left the classroom on the verge of tears. I remember telling my mom – who is the mother bear to end all mother bears when it comes to protecting her cubs.

I was never told where I had plagiarized from – only that I had. It wasn’t posed as a question, only stated as a factual accusation.

I knew I had a computer at home but one that didn’t have access to the internet so if they thought I had taken something off the interweb, that was literally impossible. (And for those of you wondering, smart phones didn’t exist yet – I know, call me abuela.)

My mom called the school. She advocated for me when I couldn’t advocate for myself. Eventually, it came out that my instructor had thought my paper was so well written, he showed the department chair, a senior English teacher on sabbatical at the time who had determined there was no way a 16 year old had written this paper. She couldn’t give a source. But my mom demanded one. And after the added pressure, she found someone’s dissertation out of Boston College who had analyzed the wardrobe of the Gatsby characters. As I sit here typing, I can’t help but think I would now be flattered to have my writing compared to a dissertation. But at 16, I didn’t know how to do that kind of research, we still went to the library to look in actual books. The school convinced me and my mom that this would not be anywhere on my academic transcript. My instructor offered an apology and wanted to move past it.

This is where a piece of Tiffany Martínez’s blog, really resonates with me:

“They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language … My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this?… I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to “cut and paste.” I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them.”

In light of the recent news stories about women of color, I wonder if my last name had been different would either of the two White educators have questioned my intelligence, my ability to write a compelling argument. I won’t ever know the answer to that. [Tolu’s addition: I don’t know, either, but something with the history of who is believed to have a great mind makes me think it would have been another outcome had your last name been different.] What I do know is that an instructor I looked up to, who was also the football coach (and I was a student manager), did not take the opportunity to tell his superior that he thought I was capable of such writing. An instructor who I thought might some day think of me as the kind of student who would never quit but would keep trying no longer viewed me so positively. I would not ask him for a letter of recommendation. Despite it being his advice I used to write my personal statement, he is not someone I would run to when I received acceptances to different colleges. My tenure as manager of the football team would be spent trying to avoid him.

As someone who suffers pretty debilitating-ly from Impostor Phenomenon (and has for a very long time), this is crushing. Actually putting effort into something did not provide me with a happy ending and clouded my view of what “effort” means for years to come afterwards.

My first year in college, my sister continued in her role as football manager with my previous teacher. He asked her where I was going to school. She said, “the University of Notre Dame.” His response, “Makes sense. Good writers go to schools like that.”

I wish the name of schools didn’t have such an impact on people because maybe I wouldn’t be in such debt right now. But his response and many others like it, are why I chose Notre Dame in the first place – I wanted to prove people wrong.

A year later, the department chair would return from Sabbatical and teach my sister, she would be blown away by my sister’s writing and make a remark about it running in the family. Sadly, one small comment cannot undo the hurt, pain, and trauma that would cause me to continuously doubt myself throughout my post-secondary education.

 

Lizzy Seeberg

Lizzy Seeberg.

It’s a name I know well. It’s a name I wish I didn’t know because of why I know it. And back in November the world learned the name as well.

I remember it all too well. I was in my senior year at Notre Dame when Lizzy’s name spread like wildfire across a community that suddenly seemed too small.

This is one of those stories that makes me ashamed of my alma mater. I love much of what ND stands for. I loathe the lengths the institution will go to protect what it stands for and more often, its image. And yes, its athletics.

Lizzy was a student at nearby sister school, St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s is an all women’s school, where Notre Dame men once went to pick their wives (a rant for another day. ND didn’t go co-Ed until the 1970s). Lizzy accused a Notre Dame football player of sexually assaulting her. Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) did nothing. I remember being sick to my stomach reading about the text message another football player wrote to Lizzy warning her “not to mess with Notre Dame football.” The worst part of this story is that the details only came out after Lizzy died by suicide shortly after the alleged assault.

On November 22nd, Lizzy’s dad shared her story with the world when CNN broadcasted the Hunting Ground to millions. I watched as a former NDSP officer spoke of the rules in place prohibiting authorities from approaching athletes at any athletic facilities or through any athletic staff members. A system designed to protect student-athletes.

Others likely remember the Jameis Winston story-line from the documentary. Another prominent example of how a school and a city will do anything to protect a prized athletic program. It came as no surprise that Jameis threatened to sue CNN if they screened the film or that FSU attempted to poke holes in the film but producers had a brilliant response to their allegations focused on factual information of the investigation.

Major props to CNN for showing the film despite those calls to withdraw support.

It was certainly interesting to have my family watch the film on television. While my parents did not attend college, having seen two daughters navigate two very different campuses, it sometimes takes me by surprise how little they know with some of these topics. Hearing the statistics of sexual assault was especially difficult for my mom. Maybe it was better for them to hear these numbers after both her daughters have long since graduated. I can only image how scary it is to know those numbers, kiss your girls goodbye and hope for the best.

I still have no idea what the best way to prepare young women is. We shouldn’t even have to prepare them. Because, if we are being honest, any “preparations” we engage in leads to victim blaming. A fraternity was also featured in the film. As a professional, who recently worked with fraternity men and sorority women, I wish I could say I didn’t encounter students who are unaware of dynamics and factors that contribute to a rape-supportive culture (e.g. short shorts & escort theme party). But I do. Worse yet, is the email that comes from the university (after an assault) with included “tips,” which apparently are to keep people from getting assaulted. After receiving this email, it was only a matter of hours before a sorority woman approached me angry about the language being used. And she was right. Let’s be clear – the only thing that can prevent rape are rapists. I could do nothing but agree with her. I could not validate my employer.

I had suppressed the memory of Lizzy so much, that hearing it again caused me to be incredibly emotional. I think part of that comes from knowing so much more and knowing how common sexual assault is. I think it comes from working with college men and women every day and how much I care for them.

Lizzy’s name is one I cannot forget. She was taken far too early from this world and to this day, no one has been held accountable for what happened to her. I just want it to stop.

On the other side, I cringe whenever I hear Jameis’ name on Sports Center or ESPN. This is rape-supportive culture at its greatest. After evading arrest and prosecution and vilifying a survivor, he was still able to win the Heisman and be drafted into the NFL – constantly lauded for his accomplishments, while a young woman’s life has been irreparably changed. I just want it to stop.

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Paper Cuts and Fatal Bullets

In my current job, I create and facilitate bystander intervention trainings for student leaders. We focus not only on sexual assault prevention, but other instances where we may need to step in as active bystanders. This year, we’ve added a section around microaggressions, and students have about a million and seven questions about them. Which is fine when the questions are respectful, because students are all in the sessions to learn (and my problematic self didn’t even learn the term until my senior year in college, so I’m one to judge). I’m excited students come in eager to gain knowledge, but whew!

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Besides the basic:

  1. “what is a microaggression” (answer: “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color” [Sue, et al., 2007]), and
  2. “are White girls who wear Ugg boots and drink PSLs targets of microaggression? “(answer: no)

a question I’ve heard this year, and have gotten in the past when talking about microaggressions is “why are microaggressions a big deal? They’re like…tiny aggressions. They aren’t a big deal as killing someone, so why are we talking about them?” (This is a mashup of direct quotes from different individuals telling me or other facilitators that microaggressions aren’t a big deal. Most of these are from White folks, p.s.)

If you can’t tell, this particular question bothers me to no end. Hold on to this thought.

Two days ago, I saw a notification on my phone that #TerenceCrutcher was trending on Twitter. At this point, I, like many others, have an unfortunate sixth sense about names that trend as hashtags. I assumed the worst. Today, like other days, I was correct. Terence Crutcher was a Black man murdered by the police in Tulsa, OK last Friday (yes, Oklahoma, the same state where former Oklahoma City Daniel Holtzclaw sexually assaulted 13 Black woman). He was tasered, then fatally shot. The Tulsa Police Department released the video tape of his death was released today, and right before Terence was killed, a police officer said “That looks like a bad dude, too.” I would like to point out: Terence did not have a weapon on him, or in his car. When he stepped out of his vehicle, he had his hands up. The police still killed him. I would also like to point out: he was on the middle of the road because his car broke down.

Yesterday, I learned that Keith Lamont Scott was shot and murdered by the police in Charlotte, North Carolina. Police reported him coming out of his car with a handgun, and said they gave him multiple warnings to drop his gun. His family reported that Scott was disabled, and he was reading a book in his car while waiting for his son to head out to school. The mayor is telling protesters in Charlotte to be “calm, ” and the police wants people to know that what the police are investigating looks different than what’s said on social media. Never mind that many a White terrorist with guns have been taken in alive. Never mind that police can’t confirm if he did indeed point a gun at them.

Last Wednesday, Tyre King was murdered by the police in Columbus, Ohio. He was 13 years old, and was fatally shot three times because he pulled out a handgun out of his waistband. That turned out to be an air pistol. Two things: Tyre was less than 5 feet tall, and weighed less than 100 pounds. It’s reported that any one of the three shots could have killed him. Also, the police were after Tyre King because they said he matched a description of robbery suspects (And as you read up, Keith was also known to be holding a gun when he exited his car). Last time I talked about Alton Sterling on Facebook, a Becky got up in my post about “supporting a criminal.” I don’t have much patience for that nonsense this time around, especially since Tyre was just a baby at 13. So I’m just going to put this here:

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Whew. Okay.

I’ve heard microaggressions described as “death by a 1000 paper cuts” (Nadal et al., 2011, p. 234). When we quote this, we often talk about how racial microaggressions “create a hostile and invalidating climate for people of color, saps their spiritual and psychic energies, and their cumulative nature can result in depression, frustration, anger, rage, loss of self esteem, anxiety, etc” (Sue, 2007). They’re a big deal to individuals who have to go through bullshit upon daily bullshit, so to say microaggressions aren’t a big deal is to completely dismiss the experience of marginalized folks.

But we need to remember with the “death by a 1000 paper cuts” metaphor, microaggressions could actually lead to just that: death. Because police aren’t just killing us out of nowhere. The police officer who claimed Terence was a “bad dude” didn’t just wake up that day thinking Black men look like bad men. The police officers who determined a <100 pound teenager a threat didn’t start believing that Black children could carry a handgun and be monsters five minutes before Trye was killed.  The police officers who shot Keith to death didn’t instantly have a shoot-to-kill bias against Black men. There’s previous, deep-seated bias that led the cops to think Black men/teens=scary=less than human=kill them . And often times, these biases first manifest themselves into microaggressions before they snowball into full-blown aggression. When we ignore racial microaggressions, or say they’re not a big deal, we’re giving permission to these biases. We’re saying that it’s okay to treat folks of color as less than human, or not normal. We’re essentially laying the groundwork.

No, the act of murdering a Black person isn’t the same as touching our hair. The act of murdering a Black person isn’t the same as mistaking us for another Black person. The act of murdering a Black person isn’t the same as thinking my name isn’t “normal” isn’t the same as ignoring me at the grocery store isn’t the same as dressing in Black face for Halloween. Congratulations for figuring that out. And guess what? I, and others who often experience microaggressions know that too, so don’t patronize us by pointing this out.

But let’s stop pretending this issues are so far removed from each other, spinning in opposite orbits in different planets. We work to stop racial microaggressions to make sure people of color can belong, and so others can stop seeing us as less than human. Because, as we’ve seen today, this week, and time and time again, the consequences for institutions–such as the criminal system–assuming we are less than human  are potentially fatal. The question “microaggressions aren’t important, so why are we even discussing them” is totally ignorant of this fact. And, quote honestly, the “they aren’t as bad as xyz” point/question is one people make usually because they have a tough time letting go of their racist-ass behaviors.

I will entertain all other questions on microaggressions. But don’t you dare try to tell me that they aren’t a big deal. And don’t you dare use the bodies of slain folks of color to make your point.