If I raise my voice or speak passionately about an issue, I am framed as angry, uncivil, unreasonable, as someone who “clearly has some problem(s),” and who is not interested in getting along with or seeing the perspectives of others. These “others” are typically white, able-bodied, cis-hetero or otherwise privileged. I am angry. Because this treatment would not happen if I were a white man. I see that it does not happen to white men because the framing for the exact same interaction is completely different.
I’m a white first generation student from a working class family. I am often frustrated with the assumption that whiteness equals socioeconomic privilege (which sometimes simply means middle class stability, certainly a privilege). I am included among other white people as socioeconomically privileged in the way people talk about SES class-based things but I am always shocked to realize my whiteness provides me the automatic assumption of not having money problems. I don’t identify with many fellow white students because of my lower income upbringing and current realities. But I experience white privilege and it is uncomfortable.
I once overheard a conversation in which a white man wondered aloud about the role and place of white men in academia as the future unfolds. I thought to myself, Seriously? You are not a minority or an endangered species. You are not outnumbered or even close to being outnumbered. You still make up upwards of 70% of the professoriate. Not only that but whiteness is embedded in our systems and institutions. It’s so “normal” that you don’t even see it.
A colleague once mocked #BlackLivesMatter by jokingly referring to #BlueLivesMatter (referring to police) and #RedLivesMatter (referring to firefighters) because #AllLivesMatter. This took place in the tone of *nudge, nudge, chuckle chuckle* ‘what’s all this diversity and social justice stuff about anyway?’ Clearly this person doesn’t understand that occupations are not the same as people’s lives and that there is a systemic pattern of police brutality against black people -whether they are actually committing a crime or not- in this country that is undeniable in recent years’ public memory. I was stunned by this level of ignorance and lack of empathy but mumbled through points about why and how his comment was grossly shortsighted and a perversion of #BlackLivesMatter. I am not confident he really understood what I said to him.
I use my long-term heterosexual relationship to gain legitimacy.
A student of color once came to my office to talk about something he felt but couldn’t quite place. He told me he had gone to the tutor center for clarification on class content. The center personnel seemed to think he was not studying or doing the reading. This student has earned top grades his entire Davidson career. He had extensive notes with highlighted marks with him. He simply wanted extra time to go over some class content. He said he sensed that they thought he was from a poor public school background in the way they made comments about his education. He has attended only expensive private school his whole life. He was surprised by these microaggressions he was experiencing because he knew it was about the conflation of race with class that was guiding the assumptions and patronizing tone. I told him about the research on stereotype threat and gave several well-known examples. I attempted to validate his concerns. We discussed strategies to handle this and navigate the tutoring center. I made it a point to check in with him routinely beyond this meeting. He felt comfortable telling me because I’m also a person of color and he had had classes with me in the past. He knew that I would “get it.”
In my first two years teaching at Davidson, I got to know two students who eventually transferred out. Completely separately and unrelated to one another, each student told me that they gave others common excuses to transfer. But behind those closed doors both times in my office, they told me that, honestly, the weight of being a black student and a biracial (and ambiguous “exotic”) student respectively had just become too much. They were tired of people imposing identities on them and making snap attributions about their attitudes or actions based on racial (and sometimes sexual) stereotypes. It had become so much that they felt constantly defensive and angry. I affirmed their frustration, told them I, as a person of color, knew that feeling well, and I supported their decisions to leave.
When the moving truck showed up at our new home in Davidson, an older white woman with a child in a stroller stopped, waited for us to come back outside from inside the house, and barked at us without so much as a simple ‘hello’: “Moving out, or moving in?” We said, “Moving in.” She walked away without saying a word. That was my first experience with what I now joke about as peak Lake Norman white women’s entitlement. To spaces, to places, to answers to their demanding questions. I knew we might not love the town after all even if we did just move here for my dream job. Because on moving day, we were made aware of our hypervisibility and undesirability
We took our toddler trick-or-treating around one block of Concord Rd. We took a stroller and walked from our house. One house was busy with adults sitting on a porch passing out candy. A woman asked me where we lived. I said we walked from our house around the corner on Concord Rd. She said, “Yeah, well this is a nice place, this neighborhood.” I told her I knew that because we live here. Maybe she misheard and thought I said we were from Concord, NC but when I corrected that miscommunication, she just muttered, “Oh…” and trailed off. The message I got was that a young family of color can’t possibly live in this neighborhood. Surely, we are from elsewhere. And that elsewhere is where we belong. Some white people on “this side of the tracks” in Davidson sure police those boundaries of whiteness and belongingness. This woman put a damper on an otherwise fun Halloween night out with my husband and kid.
When I first learned about the Bonner Scholars program, I assumed it was for first generation students who do service to get need-based scholarships. Something in my mind made me connect a service-focused scholarship program with an assumption that it’s tailored exclusively to first generation students. I realized this class-based microaggression I was committing. I should’ve looked for more information. When I saw my students, the microaggressees, involved in the program, I told them about my assumption and apologized for it.