This week’s blog post is from C, a member of our Shelter staff.
Professor and author Derald Wing Sue describes micro aggressions as “every day verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” and over time, these experiences have a toxic impact on our psyche. In my work at REACH’s shelter, I hear stories from survivors every day of how oppression intersects with their experiences of domestic violence. In my own life I have witnessed and experienced various intersected forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and ageism. Because of my experience with structural barriers as an African American woman, I can attest to the challenges faced by survivors of domestic violence, I have borne witness to the pain and convergence of structural racism, economic exploitation, and the disempowerment of women of color seeking safety.
Recently I attended a workshop at a local hospital on faith based institutions and elder abuse. It was scheduled to start at 1:00 in the afternoon, and before my commute to the location I thought I had the correct location where the training was going to take place. When I arrived at the location I proceeded to where I assumed the training would be. When I reached the room I walked in and sat down, and as I looked around the room to find a familiar face all I noticed was a room filled with individuals wearing white coats. I began to scan the room for a familiar face to no avail. I then turned to the two men sitting at the front of a semi formed circle, and was asked by one of the men “Are you looking for the faith based training? And before I could answer his question, his comrade answered with a resounding “Babysitting!” Before I could answer what was being asked of me, the man had made a broad sweep of judgmental assumptions of who I was, and why I was there. This man had summed up my entire career and experience. I asked the man “why would you say that? He responded by saying he saw a sign on the front door. The sign on the door was placed there to inform potential care takers of the location where the babysitting training was being held. I then turned my attention to the man that asked if I was looking for the faith based training, and he provided me with directions to the correct building and room. As I walked away I was angered by not directly addressing the assumption the other man had made of me. I wanted to hold him accountable for the micro-aggression that was hurled my way, but due to time constraints I was unable to engage this transgressor in a more thoughtful manner.
This micro-aggression is just one example, an act that contributes to the death-by-a-thousand-cuts. These acts happen so quickly, casually and frequently, that many individuals may not notice these slights or may dismiss these concerns that people of color raise about micro-aggressions. I can’t begin to explain how many times I’ve heard the sentiments, “Oh, she didn’t mean it like that” or “that wasn’t the intention.” And then it’s left to me to have to explain that the intent and impact are not the same.
When I watched the Democratic National Convention this past summer I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by Michelle Obama’s speech. I was in awe, and at the same time I had an overwhelming feeling of being. At that moment I reflected on the sentiments of Anna Julia Cooper, when she told a group of clergymen “only the BLACK WOMAN can say when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.” This sentiment resonated with me, in that, when survivors of domestic violence seek shelter, advocacy, and safety I enter this realm with them. I understand that there will be someone they will encounter who will hurl those unrecognizable attacks, and I will be the one standing with the survivor channeling Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand!”
In the end you’ll still be you
One that’s done all the things you set out to do
There’s a cross for you to bear
Things to go through if you’re going anywhere
For the things you know are right
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight
All the things you want are real
You have you to complete and there is no deal
Stand. stand, stand
Stand. stand, stand
You’ve been sitting much too long
For a humorous take on how to have conversations in the moment addressing racist speech or actions, check out this clip from video blogger Jay Smooth.