How do you handle racially insensitive comments?
Much like you, I’ve been inundated with spin-offs from the “Sh— Girls Say” series. Most of the recent ones are trying too hard to garner a laugh, but Franchesca Ramsey’s “Sh— White Girls Say to Black Girls” videos (see part 1 and part 2) stand out, not just for their humor but also for unearthing a much-needed discussion on micro-aggressions – or, as the American Psychological Association defines them, the “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.”
In character and wearing a blond wig that she tosses incessantly, actress Ramsey drops disclaimers (“Not too sound racist, but…”), offers insulting commentary (“This is so ghetto”), and encourages stereotypes (“Why are Black girls so loud?”). Of course, I chuckled because I’ve heard most of the lines or equivalents of them before (like the infamous “You’re so articulate!” – why would I not be?). But in real life, being on the receiving end of such comments is straight-up frustrating.
Ramsey’s video made me think of my own precarious run-ins over the years with non-Black women who just didn’t “get it” – didn’t understand why the offhand things they sometimes said could be so condescending. In high school, there was the brunette classmate with the Black boyfriend and mostly Black friends who began talking with an affected “Black” accent – you know, that over-slanged way of speaking only done by Black people who memorize scripts written by white people trying to sound Black.
Then there was the college floor-mate who, in an attempt to bond with my roommate and I, asked, “Who yo’ baby daddy?” She got a blank stare from me; my roomie put her in her place by asking, “Have you ever heard us talk like that? Then why would you talk to us like that?”
In grad school, there was the classmate I barely knew who asked me, ”What does it feel like to be a Black woman and be double marginalized?” Me: “I’m sorry… what?!”
There was one of my first jobs, where my supervisor used to throw around the term “Bee-yotch!” – plain tactless in a professional environment – and look at me with an “uh-huh, girlfriend” glance of understanding. Uh… I don’t understand that. And as one of just three Black women in that large office, somehow I was thought of as the de facto encyclopedia on All Things Black. I cringed every time someone asked, “Why do Black people [insert ignorant assumption about an entire group of people here]?”
After dealing with these micro-aggressions for years, I should have grown used to them. But I haven’t. And I still don’t always know exactly how to react. Every time I hear such a rude or insensitive comment, a jumble of thoughts swirls through my head: How should I respond? Am I overreacting? Being too sensitive? Is it the worth the effort to explain why this is wrong? Why should I have to? And why don’t they know any better?
How do you respond when a micro-aggression happens to you?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk
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