Davidson Microaggressions Project

“Oriental” paintings “don’t look Arab”

In a [humanities] class, we were analyzing “oriental” paintings, and several students remarked that the people in the paintings didn’t “look Arab” because they had a lighter skin tone, lighter hair, or lighter eyes. My teacher did not correct them and explain that Arabs come in all shades and sizes. This made me uncomfortable because I myself have been told I don’t “look Arab”. What is an Arab supposed to look like according to them?

Not being queer enough

A few of my fellow interns were talking about going to Pride together. I was questioning my identity (I know now that I’m bi), and I was dating a man at the time. When I asked about their plans, they said I couldn’t go and that’s what I get for being straight. It was a joke, but there was just enough bite to it that I felt ashamed of myself for not being queer enough.

“Smarter than I look”

I was a freshman who took a popular course with 100+ other students, who were split up into various sub-sections. I (a sometimes white-passing POC woman) spoke up often to answer questions or give opinions on how the class was going. The lead professor would sometimes talk about me in meetings with the TAs (other students at Davidson who has little/no social remove from the students). Lead professor would wonder aloud if I was “really as smart as people thought” (not a direct quote but a rephrasing). This ended up trickling down into social settings where, for example, one TA told his fraternity brother, who was a friend of mine, that I was “smarter than [I] looked.” Female/international TAs ended up telling me about how the lead professor spoke about me, and even though I’ve continued having a relationship with this professor, it was a great introduction to university life.

Singled Out Asian

My freshman year, I went to eat dinner at Sabi with some friends from my hall. As the one Asian at the table, I was singled out and targeted with the classic stereotype jokes: squinted eyes while mockingly imitating an Asian language, claiming that I eat cats and dogs, asked if I could read the menu in Chinese. The two people who didn’t join in as this continued throughout the meal simply sat by and smiled as if this was fine. When I asked how they’d feel if I was making racist jokes to them, their smiles dropped and they sheepishly said that they wouldn’t care, daring me to make one. FYI: trauma shouldn’t be a competition and it takes literally no effort to not be racist. Just because you are my friend does not mean I will not take offense to it. And just because you are also POC who experience racism in your lives does not justify passing on that treatment to someone else. I’m wondering, when will this type of treatment NOT be ok? When someone bucks their teeth and slants their eyes but shoves me against a wall while doing it? When someone spits at me and calls me a c***k? Please let me know.

“Pick Your Brain” about Racism

A white woman colleague once told me she would love to “pick my brain” sometime because our knowledge and research interests around racism have possible overlaps interdisciplinarily. She said it in passing and as a way to forge a connection with me. But I thought, hell NO, you cannot! My brain is not yours to simply mine for usefulness to aid your research agenda. Just read and cite my work instead. Why would anyone say this to anyone at all but especially from a white woman to a woman of color colleague? The entitlement to me, my brain, and my expertise in such an off the cuff comment floored me. And people wonder why STEM has a reputation for being rife with problematic patterns.

Linguistic Racism

There have been several occasions in my time as faculty here that I have witnessed white colleagues use linguistically racist microaggressions to imply that a student would not likely succeed here (or to point out why a student is likely to perform poorly in a specific major or internship opportunity) or a professor job candidate would be a bad fit here. About a candidate: “Would we really put this person in front of our students to teach them??” About a student: “This student cannot write or speak English well because it’s not their first language. I’m concerned about the type of students we are admitting, who cannot communicate well.” In these particular examples, I was privy to the writing in question, the spoken language usage, and the other candidacy materials that showed a more well-rounded perspective of these people. Small missteps, like an imperfect essay, or an occasional mistake in language usage, speak volumes to some racists here who are looking for reasons to other the others. I spoke up when these incidents occurred but the lesson I took from them makes my blood boil and puts me on the defensive when I think about the people this mindset impacts.

Tenured & (Now) Visible

When I got tenure, I received many congratulatory emails from senior white colleagues. I have seen some of these people repeatedly in various faculty settings over the past 6 years to tenure, and have navigated those spaces largely invisible to that “club,” apparently. The tenure emails were odd because they were clearly a rite of visibility passage. These people know who I am. They’ve seen me around. But I didn’t become a legitimate colleague until I got tenure. Noticing this personally reminded me of when a fellow junior colleague told me that a white man colleague at a faculty social event told her he would learn her name once she got tenure. I guess we are now visible and legitimate to them! Which makes me sad to know how they surely continue to think about the untenured and visiting junior faculty.

Moodle & Blackness

In a Moodle discussion post from my class, we were asked to comment on the story of the South African Khoikhoi woman, who people now know as Sara Baartman, who was coerced by English, and then French swindlers into a contract in which she was exhibited in a human zoo. Her exhibition was deeply entangled with scientific racism. She died in 1815. I read my classmate’s Moodle post about Sara’s history, and the discussion of France returning her remains to South Africa. My classmate said that she was as French as she was African, and her role as a spectacle in Europe had an impact on French people. Therefore, my classmate said: “who owns her history? Although Sara was not French, she is a product of France.” This comment was probably meant as a throwaway. I know that very few people put much thought into their discussion posts. But I find it deeply troubling that someone could think of a Black human being as a product or cultural good belonging to the nation-state which imprisoned her, even after her death. It is especially disturbing coming from a white person in a major that is supposed to teach humane instincts. What does this say about the culture of our humanities program at Davidson, and among white people? Why is it that even in these casual comments, a lack of care for Black bodies is expressed?

Coronavirus Snapchat

I have family in Hong Kong. The coronavirus has affected my family and frankly, scared a lot of people who have family in China. I’ve been asked by my parents to search for masks so we could send them to Hong Kong, due to the extreme shortages there. I received a Snapchat from a student that stated “I’m finna get coronavirus from my AliExpress packet.” I was confused why I got this Snapchat and more so furious that this student made a joke about the situation. This virus is not funny and for people to lightheartedly joke about this virus hurt me.

Belittling International Students

As an international student, I have felt belittled by my professors countless times. I especially remember my [social science discipline] professor’s comment on my first ever college paper. Despite receiving a score that was above average, she concluded her corrections with something along the lines of “I am afraid there’s no quick route for international students”. I felt like my effort and hard work were being completely delegitimized. I was ashamed and singled out. My international identity unfortunately connoted much more than I had anticipated. I felt like I didn’t belong in that class and, despite my high scores, I believed I was incompetent. Having had conversations with other internationals, it is clear to me that condescending comments continue to emerge. I just wish professors would think twice about the repercussions of their statements on internationals’ self-concepts. When you are far from home, such comments can burden you even more.