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.

Keep your phalanges out of my follicles, a.k.a stop touching my hair.

I’ve decided to draft up a manifesto of proper Black girl hair etiquette. Because apparently, the theme of February 2016 was “How Many Black People’s Hair Can You Touch Without Consent?” and everyone lost their damn minds. Now, this isn’t my first rodeo with non-Black people and their need to touch my hair without asking, As some Black people can attest to, many people think our hair is a magical unicorn of promise of hope and youth, and they try to touch our hair like it’s a good luck charm. I’ve literally had a guy reach up, touch my natural hair, and say it wasn’t as “great-feeling” as “normal” hair (but that’s another microagressional tale for another time), But my God, this month. Since I braided my hair in February, the number of people who have reached up and grabbed (yes, grabbed) onto my locks have tripled. My theory is that people are drawn to my braids even more than ever because the ombre blue calls to them like the sea calls to a privileged dolphin. I understand, my braids look cool. This month, I’m serving mermaid realness, and you want to bask in my pretty glow.

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But whatever the reason, I don’t really care. It bothers me so much that many people (mainly White women) have felt the need to pull on my hair like it’s the secret key to everlasting youth. As someone whose least favorite love language is physical touch, this has been a nightmare. And as a Black woman, this has been insulting.

When you touch my braids (and my afros, curls, or weaves), when you randomly ask if you can feel my hair, you’re sending me a signal that you think my hair is out of the norm. I feel, in a sense, othered. Because while you’re trying to tell me that you think my hair is cool, you’re also saying “Wow. I’ve never felt hair like this. This is so…weird.” My braids are not “normal” to you. They are strange, my hair regime is strange, my non-Eurocentric beauty is foreign to you. Because think about it: we rarely grab onto White hair. Or if it happens, there is a mutual understanding of only asking close friends. But often times, people even bypass the step of asking and just reach out grab my hair. Actions like this make me feel more like an object than a person, and make me think of the history of colonization and ownership of Black bodies.  Why do people automatically assume they have the authority to touch me? Even check yourself right now. If you feel yourself getting irritated with this post, that you’re “just touching to be nice and to learn about different hair textures, GOD!” ask yourself: why do you feel you have the right to touch my hair, even though your intent is tell me I look good or you want to learn about how I do my hair. Why don’t you just tell me I look good and allow me to talk about the process if I feel like talking about it? 

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From heavenrants.tumblr.com

If you’re a White person who thinks this isn’t a big deal, that you wouldn’t mind if someone, a stranger or otherwise, touched your hair, please know it’s completely different. To me, my hair is more than just a fashion statement. It’s political, my own way of rebelling against that “normal” standard of beauty. It speaks of a long journey of personal acceptance towards the way I carry myself. It stands as a “so what” to society’s claims that Black hair is dirty/unprofessional/ugly/”not as great feeling.”  Please know: I am not an advocate of randomly touching anyone’s hair. But please also know: you touching my braids holds different weight.

Obviously, there are exceptions. I would be a liar if I said I didn’t let ANYONE touch my hair. However, the list* of acceptable people is very specific:

  • If you’re in any way related to the Taiwo+Adesida brand. This includes many Nigerians, and my two partnered queer friends who lovingly refer to me as their daughter. If you haven’t raised me in any literal or metaphorical way, keep your phalanges out of my follicles.  
  • If you’re anyone who’s ever been involved in my hair journey for over 5+ years, a.k.a. we know each other like that. If you haven’t logged over 8 hours of natural vs. relaxed conversations with me and/or held me as I’ve sobbed into various pillows, you don’t have permission to touch me.  What’s funny is that the people who I consider good friends typically always ask before feeling my braids.
  • If we’re having a good, productive discussion about the softness/thickness of my hair, and I offer you my glorious locks to touch. Case in point: my boss and I had a fake argument about who’s hair was the heaviest. I ended up braiding, and then allowing my boss to touch in order to demonstrate how my two braids could whip someone out. Not only was it awesome, it was consensual, and she double checked to make sure it was okay.
  • If you’re another Black girl and we’re talking hair and we need to compare notes about thickness/color/style. Fun fact: I never touch random Black women’s hair without asking, and Black women who don’t know me also always ask. This is because we respect the general human code called personal space.

*this list is Tolu-Taiwo-specific, and may apply differently with different Black people, because we are all individual people and I don’t speak for the entirety of Black people. I don’t even speak for the entirety of 25-year-old American-born Nigerians.

White people and non-Black folk, please get your friends. Yes, obviously I need to stand up for myself. And I do–I’m starting to figure out when it’s safe to have conversations about hair touching, and when I need to smile politely in the moment and rant later (i.e. this blog post). But it really helps to have awesome pals in your corner, like how one of my friend-dads went to BAT for me last month and called out everyone who grabbed my hair, or how I can always count on one of my best friends from college to jump in when strangers touch me without permission. I don’t want to speak for every Black woman, but I personally need some assistance. I’m tired of the awkward shuffle of calling your acquaintances out and then looking like the crazy one in the group. I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to call people out without seeming like the angry Black girl, or fearing passive aggressive actions from my coworkers/superiors. It would be great if you could gently tell your besties to kindly get their fingers out of braids, or remind them, when they get that “I Just Wanna Feel Tolu’s Craaaaazy Textured Hair” look in their eye that I’m not a petting zoo. Show your friends this article and have a discussion circle, I don’t care. Just please help me out.

Honestly, between you and me, I’m kind of tired of talking about people touching my hair. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it. There have been a thousand glorious think pieces and videos already written and created about this. I’m sure I’m not the only Black person who has articulated this to you in some form or fashion. This is nothing new. But as long as strangers, coworkers, students, and other people continue to put their fingers in my braids, I’m going to continue to talk about it. So don’t discredit this post as ramblings, and don’t be mad because I’m calling this behavior out. Don’t even feel shamed if you think you’ve touched my hair in the past. Just know that my aquamarine hair is here to stay for another month. The likelihood of getting more braids in the future are high. And it would be a lot more fun to whip my hair back and forth if I could do it sans hands near my scalp. 

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Manifesto, over and out. Thank you for your time.

 

 

Let them be great: A criticism on those criticizing solidarity

Or, as our good friend Niamh put it in a Facebook message: “cc: all the jerkfaces on that beautiful CSU Mizzou solidarity post from the Colorado State University account.”

Yesterday, CSU Solidarity with Mizzou Protests (a group formed from Colorado State University) held a rally to show support for the Black students facing death threats at Mizzou. I repeat, awesome and aware students at Ashleigh’s and my alma mater took the time to organize a protest and stand with students at Mizzou. My happiness level skyrocketed to the thousands when I saw this.

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Colorado State posted a picture on their Facebook page of over 100 students rallying together, holding a sign that read “CSU Stands with Mizzou. Black Students Matter.” The sight of these Rams protesting against the injustice and terrorism of Black Mizzou students IN FRONT OF THE ADMINISTRATION BUILDING warmed my heart. The fact that CSU posted this on their official Facebook page warmed my heart even more.

But apparently, I can’t just sit and bask in proud alumna joy and have nice things, so I was also privy to the amount of ignorant comments left on the photo’s page. Some pulled quotes include:

“All students matter. This is only helping segregation and racism continue. I love my school but this makes me sad.”

“Get to class all of you, as you have much to learn before you enter the real world! All lives, and the well being of ALL students at CSU matter!”

“Scratch CSU from list of schools for my son to attend.”

“ALL student lives matter. My alumni donations are now on hold. Be better, CSU.”

“This is why I don’t donate to the university.”

Etc. Etc. These are only a few of the ones I immediately saw, and I’m sure there are a whole slew of others, but I refuse to dig through the shit anymore today. After reading the 20th negative rant, my spirit broke and I just stopped reading the comment section.

It’s sad that at this point in my life, I am no longer surprised when people turn a good thing around and come in with their racist two cents. Like I told Ashleigh, we barely had time to rejoice about Mizzou’s president resigning before all the threats started coming in. Of course we’d barely have time to get excited about student activism and solidarity. We live in a world where people have to protest the protesting of injustice because for two seconds, we are not focusing on their Whiteness.

However. We also live in a world where a group of dedicated students are taking a stand against the racism going on at Mizzou. We live in a world where these students are supported by faculty and staff, including the university president. We live in a world where official Facebook pages of universities refuse to take down pictures of this show of support, no matter how loud others threaten with their words and donation funds.

So to the alumni who’s sad that students are showing support to students at Mizzou: this rally isn’t furthering racism. Your comment is doing that on its own. I’m not quite sure how this show of solidarity and fight against racism is going to further racism, but. Okay. You tried it, I guess.

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To the misguided alumni who is urging these students to “get to class:” please understand that in the “real world,” students of color either have the choice to keep quiet and experience racism, or stand up for themselves and receive death threats and even more racism. All humans lives are important, but when it’s shown time and time again that White lives matter the most, you’re going to have to forgive us for demanding that our lives, Black lives, matter as well.

To angry alumni who threaten to stop “giving back” to CSU: Just stop. Oh my God, please stop. Please keep your money. I am so tired of alumni saying they are going to pull funds away when a school decides to give a voice to marginalized students. I am sick of alumni using money when they’re upset that students are protesting for some semblance of equity. And I’m upset that I’ve seen places where institutions actually make decisions because a group of alumni who went to school are mad that students are fighting for change. Time and time again, I’ve seen alumni donations trump student protests against racist institutionalized practices. So I urge Colorado State to keep supporting  CSU Solidarity with Mizzou Protests. And to the alumni who talk and threaten and show ignorance with their money, please just keep your dollars and your children and your donations. Or better yet, understand why Black student lives matter, continue to donate, and come join us.

CSU Stands with Mizzou. It’s time for you to get on board.

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You better preach, commenter. You. Better. Preach.