Racial micro-aggressions & dangerous casual discourse

This post is an opportunity to talk through some of the ongoing iterations of ethnoracial discrimination that circulate in everyday dialogue. I want to start by talking about the continual process of racialization, also related to racial profiling or stereotyping. Profiling – imposing race, gender, sexuality or other stereotypes and assumptions based on physical attributes – is a way to categorize people and communities, maintaining inequitable power structures.

The subtle and often erroneous ways that stereotypes are set in society are key to breaking down the deeper structural forms of racism that inform how individuals and communities are treated. The shooting of black boys and men, like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and the unresolved murder of Indigenous women are two examples of how negative and ill-informed public portrayals of particular communities – and the resultant public perception of these communities – leads to violence and injustice against them.

Racializing any community of people categorically groups them as homogenous (first), and then ranks them against “others” [with more social and economic power] (second). Once these ideas are circulating values are imposed on them, values that are read publicly through the way they/we look (skin color, gender and sexuality based expression, style of dress, etc.) and read against the dominant status quo or “normalcy” (the farther you/we are from the “norm” the more we are scrutinized and criticized and devalued).

In her 2009 TED Talk, Nigerian author Chimanada Ngozi Adichie addresses ‘the danger of the single story’. Adichie describes how limited and simplified ideas about complex and heterogeneous communities result in ignorant and oppressive stereotypes. “Positive” stereotypes can do just as much damage, cited in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology as being accepted without question and simultaneously contributing to a greater likelihood of belief in other (damaging and erroneous) biological foundations for what are often socially and culturally constructed difference. These often emerge as racial microaggressions – subtle injuries against or negative assumptions towards particular minority communities.

The following photos depict examples of racial microaggressions, created by Kiyun Kim:

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These microaggressions often come in the form of naming a race, culture, language use or religion as though it informs the conversation, when it is more effectively attributing limited group stereotypes to the actions of individuals. Think about why you or others are making reference to a person’s race, religion, nationality, sexuality, or culture before including it in the conversation. What assumptions are they/we/you holding?  Assumptions can be perpetuated in micro and macro ways for individuals who come to associated with the restricted narratives they are associated with (often in error).

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“Diet racism” comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes in the form of mimicking accents where an accent is the bud of a joke, meaning that a culture is the bud of a joke, that those individuals who speak with an accent are comical and their language differences are something to be laughed at.  Sometimes it is in the hasty categorical grouping of “all x, y, z people” being described in a certain way based on a single story, which rarely happens when talking about those in positions of power and privilege, primarily boys and men and people considered White. Other versions are found in inappropriate Halloween costumes and cultural appropriation.

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