Last week, my nonfiction writing workshop read Treading Water, an essay written by Dr. Dionne Bremyer, who is a professor at Saint Mary's. The essay goes through Professor Bremyer's life and explains the different ways she has experienced racism. Sometimes it was more blatant, like a literal punch in the face. For the most part, it microaggressions. Microaggressions that "land, as painful and as visceral as that closed fist against my jaw."
Dictionary.com defines microaggression as "a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype."
As a white person, I don't think I have ever been totally aware of my actions. I make an effort to check everything I do and make sure it's not outright racist, but it wasn't until reading this essay that I realized that I have probably, at one point or another, been the person who has done these microaggressions to someone. I try to listen when people call out my actions, but have I always been that willing to change my ways?
The truth is, I'm not totally sure. I don't remember every instance because I am not the one being affected by it. I have white privilege, and because of that privilege, I was able to forget pretty much any time I have been racist. I try to be very aware of racism and the struggles of people of color. I try to be an advocate for them and use my privilege to help other white people see racism more clearly. But if I ever slipped up and did something racist, I probably did not notice that what I was doing was wrong because it doesn't have the same effect or meaning for me as it would for someone else.
Even though I have been racist and have done microaggressions, I'm still trying to learn. Again, I will never fully understand the experiences of a person of color because of my privilege. But I can try to listen when someone talks about their experiences. I can listen to what other people have done to them and reflect on my own life. If I have done similar things, I will then know why what I did was wrong and how I should never do it again. Most importantly, I can use my privilege to help others see their microaggressions or their blatant racism and try to help create a better world.
Racism is obviously still alive. With microaggressions, it becomes more difficult to recognize racism for what it is. But we all need to recognize it so we can combat it.
My challenge to you is to read Treading Water. Not only is it a great read, but it'll help you see your actions in a new light. So read it, and then go out and use your privilege for good. Read it, and listen to others.