By Stephanie Younger •
The following list is based on real micro-aggressions and instances of racism I’ve experienced, written on the mixed-media piece I created in a VCU Future Studio program at the VCU Arts’ Department of Sculpture + Extended Media, and exhibited at Art 180. It symbolizes how I have transcended the misogyny and racism I have experienced and internalized. I want to intraracially, as well as interracially educate people on building a racially just society. Just to name a few, here are some of the microaggressions.
1. “There isn’t any racism at my school.”
The impact these words have on Black girls is erasure of our experiences with racism perpetrated by students and teachers.
2. “Why does everything have to be about Black girls? They’re not the only people. All girls matter and not just Black girls.”
Similar to the “All Lives Matter v.s. Black Lives Matter” debate, what people are saying is that Black people, especially Black girls are not getting the same attention white girls are given when they experience an injustice. Saying “all girls matter” to Black girls implies that all girls experience the same injustices.
3. “You should babysit my kids.”
Being the only Black girl in a predominantly white neighborhood, I have been asked, as young as 10 years old, to be the babysitter of my younger white counterparts. Ever since slavery, Black women and girls have been stereotyped as people exclusively capable of being caretakers of white children.
4. *Believes Black Lives Matter — except for female, disabled, LGBTQ+, immigrant etc.*
Combating anti-Black and racist violence is something that affects Black women, Black disabled people, Black LGBTQ+ people, Black immigrants and many other people at the margins. As Black people who are not without privilege, it’s important that we stand with these communities. Keep in mind that the Black Lives Matter movement was started by three Black women, two of which are LGBTQ+ and one of which is an advocate for immigrants’ rights.
5. “You think you’re grown.”
In a 2017 report released by Georgetown University, Black girls deal with “adultification,” within and outside of the classroom. Black girls aren’t always seen as children when it comes to simply being themselves. Think twice about telling a Black girl, “you think you’re grown.”
When Black youth as a whole experience police brutality, the media often justifies what happens to them by criminalizing them. Casually calling Black children “thugs” or “hooligans” further marginalizes Black children and robs them of their innocence.
7. *Defends Black men who disrespect Black women and girls*
Failure to acknowledge intersectionality within the Black community is problematic and further marginalizes Black women and girls. Black girls are victim blamed in ways white girls aren’t when it comes to surviving domestic violence and sexual violence. Malcolm X states that Black women and girls are “the most disrespected unprotected and neglected people in America.”
8. “You need to stop ranting about things that aren’t important.”
Privilege is something people don’t have to think about, or view as important. To say to a marginalized person that “race doesn’t matter,” or that we need to “stop talking about it” erases the fact that Black girls have to think about racism and sexism, and many other intersecting systems, because it affects us.
9. *Goes to the Women’s March but not a racial justice rally*
White feminism isn’t defined as a feminist who is white. However, white feminism is often manifested through standing by any progressive cause that white feminists know will affect them. That is, until they’re asked to amplify the voices of Black and Brown people and support causes that pertain to racial justice. In an article written for Bustle, Kylie Rodriguez wrote, “Do you sit in on Black Lives Matter meetings in addition to going to your local women’s march? Or attend events about school-to-prison pipeline and the 13th Amendment? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you might be being a bit of a white feminist.”
10. “You’re always dwelling on the negative. You need to focus on the positive.”
Despite one’s intention, the impact this has on marginalized groups is tone-policing, which means to invalidate a marginalized person’s concerns on a certain issue, by asking them to convey their thoughts and concerns “in a way people are open to.”
11. “Not all white women.”
When a white feminist seeks to hold [some] men accountable for their actions, only to be told, “Not all men,” it’s hypocritical to do the same to another person, especially those more marginalized then they are.
12. “But I’m so anti-Trump!”
A little earlier this week, I was told, “I’m so anti-Trump,” when I called out a gun violence prevention activist for their anti-Black racism. Being anti-Trump isn’t making progressives any less anti-Black. The fact that some so-called progressives never actually cared about these unjust policies, until they knew Trump being elected into the White House was going to affect them, is a form of racism itself.
13. “You’re a kid. You can’t vote. Kids should be seen and not heard.”
Black girls under 18 may not be able to vote, but we have been the backbone of causes, and are still capable of making the world a better place.
14. “I help people of color too! I’ve been to [insert predominantly Black country here]”
An example of a white savior is someone who brags about their volunteer trips to “help” Black children in impoverished countries. White saviors have a tendency to speak for those communities, and to perform their “activism” and “allyship.”
15. “You are being disrespectful. You are just complaining. Maybe you shouldn’t be working with us if you’re going to be attacking us.”
About a week ago, I was told that I wasn’t “exchanging my opinions peacefully.” Accusing Black girls of being disrespectful, complaining and attacking other people simply because of our reactions to racism is blatant form of tone-policing.
16. “Stop acting out. I never want to see that ungracious behavior again.”
Last year, a robotics coach accused me of “acting out” and being “ungracious” because I asked why my white female counterpart has been given credit for my work. Also a form of blatant form of tone-policing, this perpetuates the “angry Black girl” stereotype.
17. “You have a good grade of hair. I wish I was light-skinned. I want mixed-race children.”
Every time, I see someone suggest that biracial and mixed-race people will be the end to racism because of they look, I always say to myself, “Black people had white ancestry during slavery. My grandparents had white and Latinx ancestry during Jim Crow, and my mom was mixed when Dr. King was assassinated.” Regardless of one’s intention, fetishizing mixed-race children enforces racism more than it fights it. The gross fetishism of mixed-race children, especially young girls, causes the Black community to internalize that lighter skin, light colored eyes, and looser curls is the ideal beauty standard. Alice Walker coined the term “colorism.” Like racism, it does not go both ways. Unlike racism, colorism is defined by Alice Walker as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on the color of their skin.” It’s important that light skinned Black and Brown people, stand dark-skinned Black and Brown people affected by colorism. We as can start by avoiding to use problematic phrases like “good grade of hair,” and “I want mixed kids.”
18. “That was in the past. They’ve probably changed. It’s not like they’re still racist.”
This is the equivalent of, “things have changed a lot since the ’60s. Get over it.” The way society changes over time doesn’t make the experiences Black people especially Black girls, had, and still have to endure, any less valid. We also have to ask ourselves if we all have had access to the same opportunities and privileges.
19. “I’m really sorry you feel that way.”
When a robotics team refused to let me be one of their programmers because I was Black, I was told this by a feminist who worked with me and stood by as I faced racism. The reason why this isn’t a genuine apology is because a real apology fully acknowledges what one did wrong, and a significant change in behavior.
20. *Unfollows Black friends Instagram because of their politics*
I recently connected with several of my classmates from elementary school on social media, only to find that several of them unfollowed me. If you think I’m being too sensitive about this, put yourself in my shoes, and imagine losing your childhood friends because your work uplifts marginalized groups of people.
Stephanie Younger is a 15-year-old Black student, aspiring computer programmer, poet, writer and a Central Virginia based activist.