Posts Tagged ‘microaggressions’

Turnabout and Fair Play

September 16, 2010

I know that I’m not the only one who wishes she could respond to ignorance more quickly and with more cleverness.

All too often the only response I have to someone (this is in meat-space, mind you; I feel pretty satisfied with my online responses to jackassery) is a shocked look, a stammer, or a mumble. Despite the fact that I SHOULDN’T be surprised at someone’s rudeness, I frequently am. And it’s not because I didn’t know that people could be such jerks; it’s just that I rarely expect that level of upfront rudeness until it’s smacked me in the face. And then even after it’s happened, in the moments afterward I wonder if I could simply be taking it the wrong way. I wonder first if there’s something wrong with ME rather than THEM.

While we were on vacation last month, a strange white woman started cooing at Eve, who was toddling about in her little blue peace sign flip flops. She asked her in a high-pitched lilting voice, “Can I take you home with me?” I personally think it’s weird to ask to take home someone’s kid, even jokingly, but enough of my friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers have done it by now that I figure it’s normal enough. So I didn’t mind that; in fact, I was smiling because Eve was smiling at the woman.

Then things got genuinely bizarre. The woman added, “You want to come home with me? Do you want to do my dishes? How about wash my laundry?” My mouth dropped open, Eve just smiled at her, and before I even had time to fully process the fact that this white woman had pretty much just asked my black child if she wanted to be her domestic servant, the woman had already turned tail and disappeared.

In mere seconds, the interaction had gone from casually friendly to racially fucked and I said nothing to defend my child. My brain was still going “Wha-?” as the woman’s back turned, and by the time she was gone, I was already questioning myself and doing whatever mental acrobatics I needed to do to convince myself that THAT HADN’T REALLY HAPPENED.

I’ve never been very good at defending myself against the microaggressions that I receive from whites. Most of the time it happens too quickly for me to process and respond, and the times that it isn’t, I’m not able to just flippantly tell the jerk about hirself. Every time it happens, I must weigh the consequences of my possible responses, because people of color do not have the option of standing up for themselves without paying a price. Sometimes I deem that it’s worth it: I won’t get fired, hauled into HR, thrown out of the organization, or blacklisted in my field for speaking up or speaking out.

Most of them time I decide that it’s not worth it. I could say something, but I don’t, because I need this job, I enjoy this organization, I really want to work with the local lactivists even though they’re overwhelmingly white and therefore bound to sideswipe me with their privilege.

I don’t think that it makes me a bad person, choosing not to fight those battles. But I do wonder if it makes me a bad mother.

I don’t actually think of myself as a bad mom, for the record. I just can’t help but wonder how many times the damage to Eve caused by my inaction outweighs the perceived benefits to myself.

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