The Liberator

Calling racism for what it is

Student speaks out on experience with racial microaggressions

Aaron Booe, Social Media Editor

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“You’re so white,” a white friend of mine said. I forced myself to smile through the remark, obviously intended to be a compliment, before redirecting the conversation. This is not the first time I’ve been told this, nor do I expect it to be the last.

I’ve been accused of being white my whole life. Growing up in America, a country that markets itself as a cultural melting pot, you would think that observations on my personal traits wouldn’t need to be correlated with the color of my skin. Despite this image of America as a cultural melting pot, the America I live in is a startling reality that forces African Americans such as myself to confront our country’s culture of institutionalized racism.

Why is it that people take one look at me and assume that I’m poor, or uneducated, or ratchet? And why is it that they feel the need to congratulate me on my ability to charm or hold intellectually stimulating conversations? As if my making myself more palatable, more digestible, more white is something worth celebrating.

I am not sorry that I am not confined by your bigoted and narrow minded views as to what constitutes a black person and how we ought to act. I will not apologize for being more than your race based generalizations. And to those of you who make these generalizations and refuse to acknowledge them, I challenge you to truly think and process before making a joke about black people or using the N-word. Everytime you mock or belittle me, you reinforce a long existing power dynamic in which I am not a human being but a grotesque exaggeration of your preconceived notions of what a black person looks and acts like.

I understand that is sometimes seen as comedic when a joke about racist stereotypes is made. I often crack a sharp remark about white people much to the disdain of my white friends. I receive questions about the moral integrity of such jokes, but simply put, my jokes don’t lead to the incarceration of white youths, placing them into a system that shatters their identities, leaving them defenseless and voiceless. I am not capable of taking the power away from you and all who look like you, and thus cannot threaten you.

Why is it that we don’t talk about the fact that I am more than your predisposed ideas? Why is it that I have to compromise myself, monitor any and all of my mannerisms, to make sure I’m not being too black? As if I need to be the one who conforms, making myself more palatable.

Simply put, it’s because we exist within a system where racism is so normalized that it is not noticed in casual conversation and daily interactions. Every time you choose to comment on “how I talk white”, or “how smart I am”, or even how “I’m pretty for a black boy”, and these are just a small portion of the casual racial microaggressions thrown at me on a daily basis. All said without any shame, remorse, or consideration as to how these so called compliments damage my sense of identity as a African American.

During lunch one day, some of my friends and I were talking about affirmative action and why it is such a critical tool needed to fight the injustices of systemic racism. My friend, who is not a person of color, claimed that affirmative action prioritized unprepared kids over prepared kids. When I attempted to counter with the very real impacts of slavery, and the Jim Crow Laws and other forms of disenfranchisement, I was told, “That happened over a hundred years ago. Can you get over it?” This is the reality I often face when discussing the racial power dynamics of the past, and the effects felt to this day. Ranging from noticeable economic disparities on average between blacks and whites, and to the prevalent divisions in the city of Austin from your neighborhood to your school zone. In that moment, I, the only racial minority at the lunch table of ten, was stared at simultaneously dismissively and expectantly. I was livid, but mostly I felt attacked, receiving a stern reprimand over how I should process the experiences of my people, their trauma and injustices, as well as my own and very real experiences with racism.

The next time you think your racist comment is a compliment, please take the time to reconsider. I and the countless other people of color are very real human beings, with very real emotions and thoughts that are not defined by the color of our skin or the stereotypes attached to it.

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Calling racism for what it is