A micro-aggression moment

Assistant professor at Boston University School of Social Work and assistant director of research. Photo courtesy of Bu.edu

So, one of my white coworkers randomly “complimented” me today by saying that I was the nicest Black person that he has ever worked with. Before I began jumping with joy, I immediately thought about a few variables: How long has he worked, where else has he worked, how many Black people were at those jobs, and was that even a damn “compliment?”

Although I felt slighted and quite frankly confused on why my coworker thought that I would be happy to hear this news, I responded with just a simple thank you.

In fact, I was afraid that if I told him how I really felt about his “friendly” remark, that I might be overreacting and labeled as that “guy.”

However, as I lay here on my bed at 3 a.m. throwing balled up pieces of paper at my ceiling until it falls short and hits me directly in the face. This 30-second interaction that I had at work continues to linger in my mind. It’s almost like what I am doing right now somehow represents as a strange metaphor: I cannot escape covert racism.

This encounter reminded me of the Tallahassee Chan Center and the Social Justice and Innovation lab at the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy’s latest online series “Engaging Racism: Conversations for Change.” The most recent discussion was held on March 16 and led by Rob Eschmann, who is a scholar and an assistant professor at Boston University School of Social Work.

Eschmann, who delivered an engaging presentation about the negative effects of racial micro-aggressions on college students, often referenced Derald Wing Sue’s book that was published in 2010 titled, “Micro-aggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation.”

According to Eschmann, Sue’s top six reasons for why people do nothing when they experience micro-aggressions are: not being sure that a micro-aggression has occurred, not knowing how to respond, not being able to respond quickly enough, the tendency for targets of  micro aggression is to make themselves think that a micro aggression did not actually occur, the belief that responding to racial micro-aggressions is futile and won’t change anything, and perhaps most importantly, fear of potential negative consequences of responding to racial micro-aggressions due to racial power dynamics in various social contexts.

Eschmann described my most recent situation to the “T” by saying something that really resonated with me.

“Despite the negative effects of experiencing racial micro aggressions, there is a consensus in the research that the most common response to micro-aggressions is to do nothing,” he said. “People don’t want to lose associates explaining to their coworkers and friends why the micro-aggression hurt them and their colleagues might not see it as being that big of a deal.”

That’s it! I wanted to believe that it wasn’t that big of a deal and he just misspoke. But by virtually becoming a statue and not saying anything, I did us both a huge disservice.

My response of what I thought was a sarcastic and dry thank you, was enough of a justification for him to believe that it’s OK. But it will never be OK.