Neil Degrasse Tyson said something on CBS This Morning the other day that made me go, “Hmmm.” He said, we are all looking for our way to be unique, but what if the amazing thing is that we are all the same. Yes, Dr. Tyson, yes I’m the same as so many others. He of course was talking about our biology, but I’m talking about the stories we tell that are the same, the stories of our treatment in this society. I am constantly amazed at how much I have in common with other Black women. Rarely do they say to me, I also went to high school in North Dakota, love hiking and camping and my favorite TV show is Smallville too. No, those are the things that people try to pretend make me “not really Black”. But, we all sit down and start telling the stories of how we’re treated in this world and our stories are over and over again the same. The constant audacity of people invading my space to touch my hair is true for all of my friends—with my 3C curls, my friend with dreadlocks, my friend with a short afro and my friend who almost every week has a different weave or braids style, different hair, same story. The staff who when I, as their supervisor, tell them what to do react by saying I’m angry and a bully. My friends have that same story, our different ways of supervising—loud voices, big smiles, calm whispers—all seen as angry rather than doing the job of supervisor. More and more examples can fill these pages. Yep, we fill weekends telling a microagression story and then each of us echoing the story of how that same thing happened to the rest of us.
This treatment is always the elephant in the proverbial room of our society. Always there. Sitting in the corner. Same as we are all different people receiving the same treatment, we are different in our tactic for dealing with it. Stuff it down and let it go. Try to softly point out the hurtful nature, the dehumanizing nature, the recycling of racism and we are met with “but, it was a compliment”, or “everything isn’t racist”. Confront it full on and get labeled as unsafe.
The elephant in the corner is also the weight sitting on my chest. The responsibility of speaking up and educating others keeps getting handed to me as if it is something I must accept. If I don’t speak up I haven’t done my duty for the next person. If I don’t speak up it only hurts me. If I don’t speak up she won’t have the opportunity to correct herself. Yet, this is putting the responsibility of stopping violence into the victim’s hands. Long ago in the sexual violence movement we learned that it is not the victim’s responsibility to stop the violence. Why teach women to defend themselves if a more effective path is to teach men to notice and protect boundaries? Why say to vulnerable children “get away” when they don’t have the means or power to do so? Why ask women why they stay instead of asking men why they abuse? True prevention sits in changing the culture that supports violence.
Time to move the responsibility of stopping microaggressions to the perpetrators. Time to shift our culture to say this is unacceptable. Time to put people with power responsible for noticing their own bias (conscious and unconscious), speaking out as allies, and stopping themselves from committing this violence.