Black while at Tech

Photo courtesy of Journey Sherman

As a Black student at Tech, I have had my fair share of microaggressions hurled my way. When you hear the word microaggression what comes to mind? If the answer is nothing, then let me give you a brief rundown on this topic. Microaggressions are actions or language that bolsters implicit biases towards specific groups of people. The difference between microaggressions and outright discriminatory behavior is that most of the time microaggressions are more covert.

A prime example of this is when I’m telling someone what school I go to and they’re honestly shocked. They look at me as though I’m a “credit to my race.” Their jaws drop and they look as though they’ve just seen a unicorn in real life. It’s ridiculous to think that an intelligent Black person is an oxymoron. We exist! There are plenty of high-achieving and astute Black scholars. Sometimes microaggressions are unspoken and other times, they are verbal.

It isn’t unheard of for microaggressions to come with a smile attached, to sound almost complimentary or positive on the surface. It can sound like “You’re so pretty for a Black girl” or “I don’t see color.” Let’s break down the issues with these statements first.

The first idea promotes the incorrect belief that Black women cannot be pretty and be Black simultaneously. In the same vein as this statement, asking a Black person if they are ‘mixed’ race because they seem to exceed the mainstream standard of Black beauty, this is a slap in the face. Black people, more specifically Black women, should be more than able to celebrate their Blackness concurrently with their beauty.

Likewise , when your class is covering issues of racism, please do not be the one to say “I don’t see color.” This outdated phrase is moronic and more times than not, the person that says this was never even asked for their opinion on the topic in the first place. It comes across as ignorant and naive. We want you to recognize us for more than our color but at the same time, we want you to acknowledge the differences between us so that you can better understand our struggles.

As mentioned briefly in the introductory essay of this series, it is never the responsibility of the only or one of a very few Black people in the class to speak for their entire race. However, if you do want to speak up and share your opinion on a racial issue, you should not have to worry about racially inflammatory comments to follow your thoughts. I have never been in a situation where white students have been outright racist to their Black classmates, but I have definitely witnessed microaggressions on numerous occasions. Please do not say that your

Black classmate is ‘articulate” or ‘well-spoken.’ These are back-handed compliments and are only received as such. So even if you genuinely feel this way keep it to yourself. This type of language comes across as though we are an outlier for our race and that black people are incapable of possessing a thorough grasp of the English language. Minute phrases like these can really take a toll on Black students’ self-esteem, so it is important to be aware of their use.

Although all of these examples are valid, the majority of microaggressions take place outside of the classroom. And on that note, one my biggest pet peeves is when I am with another white friend and we are talking to one of their white friends but they will only make eye contact with my friend and not me. This may seem extremely minor to some people but to feel like you are wearing an invisibility cloak in instances like these can wear you down.

It is times like these when I feel like white people are scared to look at me almost as though they’re afraid they will turn to stone by making eye contact with me. I promise I’m not medusa! If you, as a white person, want to be an ally to your Black friends please introduce us and please make sure we’re included in the conversation. We’ve seen you post a black square on social media, now it’s time for you to put in the real work.

While some white people completely ignore me others look right through me. More often than not, I find myself having to move out of a white student’s way when walking through campus.

Although, this microaggression is very specific and may not be relatable for every Black person, those that have experienced it will know exactly what I mean. The simple act of sharing the sidewalk and moving over for someone shows that you respect them and it also shows you value their presence.

Also keep in mind while passing a Black person on campus that, we’re not going to steal your purse or backpack so please don’t clutch it when we pass you. Even if you think you’re being subtle, we will always notice it.

Whether a microaggression is verbal or a behavior, it is important that we address them either way. It’s true that some of these seem like they fit into a gray area and could be unintentional, but the first step is to be aware of how these actions can impact Black students.

If one of your Black friends comes to you and tells you about one of these instances, start a dialogue about it and hear them out. We have been infamously told in the past that we are overreacting to microaggressions like these that happen much too often for them to just be a coincidence. Something that seems minor to you may be the reason that a Black student does not feel at home at Tech.