BY AMBER BURRELL
As someone who grew up in NYC, I have been fortunate to have contact with racially and ethically diverse people. I didn’t experience being the only black kid in class, until college. There were a few classes where I was the only person of color, but it wasn’t awkward. However as a black person, you are always aware that you are black. I’ve made great friends with many people in college from diverse backgrounds. Some of the friends I made bonds with happen to be white people that “get it”.
“Is it weird being surrounded by all these white people?”
When I was asked this question at a party where I knew very few people, I was taken aback. Some of you are going to be disappointed, but I politely said, “No, it’s not weird at all”. Of course the room went silent after that. Everyone apologized to me afterwards, I moved on.
A few days ago a woman who I’ve met once before asked, “ Is your name Bianca, Beyoncé? I replied “No, Its Amber” and then the woman asked, “Do you spell it the normal way?”
Again, some of you are going to be disappointed with my response.
“Yes, I do.”
What happened here? I was little offended by her questions. The people who were present would not have seen an issue with her questions. The issue I had were the assumptions that were automatically made about me. In addition, in these events the individuals that made the comments also happen to consider themselves socially progressive or as some folks would say, “woke”. Therefore I know that they did not have bad intentions when they asked those questions. I know my politeness did not help them understand their micro aggressions (if you consider these questions to be so).
However, being black and being a woman I’m afraid to overreact. In these instances I had to keep in mind that these questions were asked without malicious intent, as some microaggressions are. We are all guilty of perpetrating our micro-aggressions on others; we have been conditioned to do so. Microaggressions go beyond race. Personally, I need to work on making people conscious of what they are saying, especially if they are ‘down for the cause’. This summer I’ve been working on educating and empowering myself. Social justice is not something you master overnight; we all have room to grow.
Allowing ourselves to be aware and the meaning we attach to what people say can lead to pain ad it’s ok. It’s ok to feel “X,” emotion and anyone who says, “you are being sensitive” is being dismissive. There are networks of people out there to support you. The Internet can be toxic, but it’s also a place to make connections and get validation. Sometimes it can be hard to find that validation especially when you hear people say to “suck it up” or society is being “hyper-sensitive”. If someone says they are offended by something you said or did, please listen to them. It doesn’t matter if it was innocent or a joke. There are ways to learn about someone without coming across as rude. Even if they are the only “X” in the room.
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