“These are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big black bucks.”President Dwight Eisenhower to Chief United States Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren who presided over Brown v Board of Education
I attended an emotional intelligence training. Second to arrive, I entered a training room comprising seven tables with four chairs around each. A pleasant middle-aged white guy proctored the course. As more attendees arrived, a quick tally reveals 13 of 28 seats are filled. Each table attracted multiple attendees except one. Mine. I was the only black person in the room at the time of my calculation.
Two additional people entered – both attendees of color. One sat next to me; the other decided to sit elsewhere. When the training started, all four seats were occupied at my table. A white woman occupied one. Coincidence? Because no other seats were available at that point?
Many reasons explain white attendees’ forgoing sitting at my table – including racism. No one is required to sit next to me. No attendees arrived wearing a Klan suit, wielding ignited tiki torches, or sporting red caps donning a racist euphemism. Nowadays, racism manifests subtler, pervasively & comfortably as microaggressions.
Professor Chester M. Pierce — as a Harvard University professor in the 1970s — coined microaggressions. Three are three types: microassualts, microinsult, and microinvalidation. My training incident was a micro-insult.
I experience microaggressions as subtle insults communicated by white people to nurture their insecurities and substantiate the falsity of my alleged inferiority. Few are self-destructive enough to be overtly racist – a price too steep to pay nowadays. Microaggressions are safer; easily conflated with seemingly reasonable things. Consider voter ID laws. Superficially, they address nonexistent voter fraud. There are purposed with suppressing Democratic (leaning) voters. Discriminatory laws comprise fine print deeming illegal, IDs typically used by voters who believe in one political ideology over another.
The American Psychologist’s article Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life, defines microinsults. Ever elusive, exposing microinsults can be fraught with faux pas. How so? Oftentimes microinsults are deemed impolite and not racist by white people. Why should white people care? They hold the managerial, economic, and social power need to address them. Microinsults require those on the receiving to substantiate racist acts, practices, and policies to levels of exactness demanded by the perpetrators. However, this so-called beyond-a-reasonable-doubt stance changes with the wind. Why? The goal is neither to seek understanding nor honestly assess the situation, it is to avert white discomfort. To exhaust those seeking justice into abandoning the cause.
Acknowledging white attendees (sub)consciously opting not to sit at my table is indicative of the slippery slope I mentioned. Am I up to articulating subconscious racism influencing decision-making as much as exercising Free Speech in sitting where one pleases? Is it worth being ridiculed for hypersensitivity (microinvalidation)? Making everything about race – when oftentimes it is? Superficially, I appear to demand white folks sit next to me or be labeled racist. American history screams otherwise.