This is a guest post for swpd by fromthetropics, who writes about herself, "I am mixed cultured, and always feel in-between -- both here and there, but neither fully here nor there."
Recently, readers of this blog have witnessed commenters accuse certain non-white commenters of being angry and snarky, and of shouting down others. For those who don't experience racism in the form of microaggressions on a regular basis, there’s something I think you need to know. Regularly experiencing microaggressions is seriously taxing on the psyche.
It’s hard to think of an illustrative analogy here. Okay -- imagine having a moody boss, and having to go to work every day without knowing if he/she is gonna yell at you or not that day. When they do yell, you have no idea what you’ve done wrong. You don’t know what you’re supposed to do to ensure he/she is pleased with you, because it doesn’t actually matter what you do. You have no control over what happens.
For me, the racism of microaggressions means having to be alert the minute I step outside the house, ensuring that I don’t carelessly do something that might reflect badly on my race. Every time I talk to someone, I’ve got my antennas up in the back of my mind, wondering whether white people will speak condescendingly to me or not. When they don’t, I am relieved. When something negative happens (e.g., being spoken to in a patronizing tone), I walk away wondering if it was racism or whether there’s just something wrong with me. Because quite often, I have no idea whether I did something wrong.
Sometimes it’s a car full of young white men driving by as they yell out something. Sometimes it’s incomprehensible, in which case the vibe still isn’t good. I keep walking, wondering if it was racism, or maybe they’re just boys being boys. Then one night they yell out something and I hear the words ‘Asian girl’ somewhere in their yelling. ‘Ah, that’s the vibe I was picking up that other week,’ signals my antenna. Or they throw my luggage at me and my family with a smirk at the airport, offended that I’d asked them to weigh our luggage again, to check if it really was overweight.
Or maybe I go to a shop, and a tiny merchandise rack that was standing extremely precariously (no exaggeration) falls over when I pass by. It isn’t my fault. I can pick it up, but I can see that it would fall over again anyway when the next person passes by. Then my antenna goes up: ‘But if I don’t pick it up, they’ll think Asians are rude won’t they?’
So I pick it up. The shopkeeper comes over and instead of just saying ‘thank you,’ she praises me for doing so, as though I was a child, and mentions how ‘good’ I am compared to that ‘Other’ girl who didn’t pick it up. My antenna goes up again: Was that other girl Asian too? Good thing I picked it up. Otherwise it really would have made Asians look bad.
Or let’s say, your good white friend brings up the topic of race. For the first time you think it’s okay to talk about racism. But one thing leads to another and she ends up telling you to go see a counselor/psychiatrist because you think racism is widespread. The friendship ends of course, painfully. Painfully because it was a friendship that mattered.
None of these (except the last one) are a big deal in and of themselves. But the regularity at which they happen is.* It wears you down. It really, simply wears you down to have that antenna up all the time. Some on this blog say it happens daily to them. For me, it happens about once a week. But I have to keep my antenna up every day. It’s tiring. I didn’t realize how deeply tiring it was until I went to Asia to live for a year. It’s amazingly liberating to not have to worry about this at all. To live, that is, like most white people do.
My point is, when the same thing happens again on a site dedicated to anti-racism, it’s extremely frustrating. Hence the anger, the snarks, the shouts, in many of the comments. Is it okay to be snarky? Maybe not. But this is where it’s coming from. I hope you can hear us on this.
Also, while white readers use this space to dismantle their ingrained racially prejudiced views, POCs are trying to dismantle our bitterness and anger and internalized racism. And it is a process, much like identity development (or perhaps, it’s part of identity development).
I started reading this blog in April of this year. I went from being very angry while wondering whether I was imagining racism (and if I concluded that I was, then I’d also have to also conclude that there is something very wrong with me to be regularly treated as less than equal); to being happy to know that I wasn’t imagining things but still very, very angry; to being just very, very, very angry to the point that for a few months I had a hard time picturing white people (in abstract terms as opposed to when I meet them in person) without thinking, ‘Ugh, disgusting.’ They became dehumanized in my imagination.
During this stage, I had to often remind myself of all the white friends and white people I know who were not ‘disgusting,’ who were very nice and very human. I started to make gross generalizations about white people a lot. An Asian Australian friend had to actually call me out on that.
Now, thankfully, my emotions have started to wind down. I don’t feel too angry anymore. This year, I’ve been lucky to meet several white people (some of whom are very fatherly), people who I can respect and who treat me with respect, both as a poc and a woman. With one of them, I felt comfortable enough to discuss racism (though I steered clear of the word ‘racism’ and used ‘prejudice’ instead). And yes, he got somewhat defensive, and for every point I made he would counter with the ‘anything but racism’ line of argument. But at no time did he show any disrespect towards me as a person.
I appreciated that (especially after I saw that video where White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs talks to April Ryan, a black female reporter, in a patronizing and infantilizing manner. I realized that the discussions I was having with this guy could have easily flared up into a Gibbs & Ryan type of exchange, had he been more prejudiced). It’s like pulling at the rope in a tug of war and the other guy lets go. When he got somewhat defensive, I started expressing my views more strongly and got frustrated (pulling at the rope with more gusto). But when I realized he didn’t then go around disrespecting me (he let the rope go), I calmed down and actually went back to apologize, just in case, for coming off too strongly (I let the rope go too). To which he said, convincingly, that I had no reason to apologize at all and that he appreciates that I shared my views (so the tug-of-war in my heart ended).
So it’s taken me months of venting on swpd and elsewhere, becoming ultra angry to the point of being ‘racist’ myself towards white people, meeting white people who are probably not fully aware of their whiteness but doing all they can to be respectful, and also doing other things to deal with the anger and bitterness. It’s been a long, deeply emotional and involving process. I don’t think it’s completely over yet either.
All of this is to say that I understand that being bitter and angry doesn’t look especially good or pretty. I don’t like being bitter or angry either. (The links from elise were helpful in understanding how to ensure that our poc anger doesn’t spill over into our comments in discussions of race.) But I think some of us here are in the midst of a process of dismantling our anger when we snark and vent. We’re not angry because we have an angry personality. The anger is part of a process.
I am not excusing anger. I want it gone too. But I want you to hear where we’re coming from, to hear from where the process is happening -- our hearts.
*If you picked one regular poc commenter and added up the number of times they say, ‘That happens to me too,’ I think you’ll start to see how frequently poc experience microaggressions.