‘Little’ offenses can take a big toll



October 7, 2019 - 9:57 AM

 Life as a young biracial black woman in today’s political climate is no walk in the park. Shocker, I know. I have been screamed at on the streets, called an “unholy mix” of races, and told to burn in hell. It may be surprising, but it is not these sorts of offensive comments that bother me the most. It is the more subtle remarks that get under my skin, because it is difficult to address an offensive statement made by someone who does not understand why it was offensive. These types of comments are called microaggressions. Microaggressions are defined as, “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude towards a marginalized group.” Let me give you an example.

Many people have commented on my speech and my ability to articulate, emphasizing the observation that I don’t “talk black,” or “sound ghetto.” This is meant to be a compliment, but is inappropriate in several ways. First, it implies I exceeded the expectation that I would not be well-spoken. This in turn contributes to the idea that black people are inherently uneducated, and African American dialect is invalid. Secondly, it creates an opposition between me and my fellow people of color by creating a competition I did not sign up for. Thirdly, it is presumptuous. “Talking black” is referring to African American Vernacular English (AAVE). AAVE is cultural, and as a matter of fact, I use it often in my daily life. However, I also do what is commonly known as code-switching. Code-switching refers to the way I change my dialect based on my setting and who I am speaking to.

As you can tell, I am deeply offended by the microaggression that I do not “talk black,” while the person I am speaking to is left confused, wondering how the conversation took such a turn. Therein lies the problem. Well-intentioned comments about how a person defies a stereotype are problematic in the way they validate the stereotype itself.

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