• Kyia Young

Viewpoint: Microaggressions come in form of backhanded compliments

November 19, 2016

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the word “racism” is defined as “the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another; that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics.”

Typically, individuals think that racism is an outward hate from one ethnicity to another. However, some people are blinded to how much disposition and anger they have toward others who lack different traits — such as skin color, hair, etc. — and aren’t aware of their unintentional ignorance.

This is where microaggression and/or macroaggression kicks in. A lot of people within our culture and even outside of it haven’t heard of these terms before, but it plays out in their day-to-day lives through conversations, actions and social media.

Microaggression is a term Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce coined in 1970. It describes “insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans.” Some examples include: “Your hair is so pretty and curly. Are you mixed?”; “You’re really pretty for a black girl!”; and “You talk and act like you’re white.”

These are common insults that tend to not only insult minorities, but also make them feel inferior to the majority race, forcing them to try to fit in more or become more insecure and vulnerable.

“Your hair is so pretty and curly. Are you mixed?” stereotypically targets light-skinned or biracial girls, who are the only ones allowed to have “good” hair. In the professional world, the natural bush or ‘fro isn’t seen as professional, but as tacky and unkempt. People who make these judgments aren’t familiar with black culture and look down upon individuals who choose to embrace their culture and are proud to express it publicly.

Black women have started movements to celebrate their hair and its culture instead of degrading it like some have in the past. Some women like to call it their “crown” or “halo” since it symbolizes who they are. What some people don’t understand is that every black person, or person in general — regardless of race — has different hair textures. Many might be similar, but our differences make us who we are and make us unique.

“You’re pretty for a black girl!” is probably the most common, most ignorant and most upsetting backhanded compliment you could give any black woman, based on my personal experience. You saying this tells me you not only are blinded by color and true beauty, but you chose to point out my differences. Why not recognize my beauty as a person, rather than as a color?

“You talk and act like you’re white” is something I’ve been told and heard multiple times. I went to a predominantly white school all of my life, but I still haven’t comprehended what it means. My interpretation is that just because I dress preppy, wear my hair half up and half down, my voice is a little high-pitched and I can act slightly “bougie” sometimes, doesn’t make me white.

Just because I went to school with Caucasians doesn’t mean I was cultured by them. I understood where my place was, and that was me being a black girl in a pool of white girls. I’m not segregating our differences at all, but my family always made sure I knew where my family originated and that I understood I don’t have the privileges white people have. Some things they are allowed to do, I couldn’t just because I’m not Caucasian. So this example tells me black individuals can’t enunciate their words or dress differently just because it’s not accepted.

In the end, you just play yourself.

In writing this column, I hope to keep my readers open-minded on how they say phrases where the intention was clear to be a compliment, but was just another microaggressive example that could possibly take a toll on the mental health of that individual. Look out for my next columns that are part of this series, which include: Macroaggression vs. Microaggression and the Critical Race Theory.


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