“Is that your real hair? Can I touch it?” “Where are you really from?” “You act/sound white.” “You’re not like other [insert race] people I know.” “You’re pretty for a dark skin girl.” “Can you see as much as white people through your eyes?”
Every person of color in the US, at least once in their life at some point, has experienced a microaggression. Many people don’t even know there’s a name for this type of interaction, simply brushing it off as rudeness or calling it racism instead. While microaggressions are a form of racism, they’re a little bit different than blatantly racist comments as they’re harder to detect and some people might not even be aware that they’re problematic. But intentional or not, it’s the domino effect in action: microaggressions fuel prejudice, which in turn creates discrimination, which then leads to the awful violence towards minorities that we hear about too often on the news.
Simply put, a microaggression is a “comment or action that subtly expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group” (Merriam-Webster), so it isn’t exclusive to people of color, although that’s what I’m choosing to focus on. It also includes LGBT people, women, people with mental illness, and people with a disability.
As someone who looks like I could be just about anything except Caucasian, I get asked often, “What are you?” I don’t take offense to it when I can tell that the person is coming from a good place of curiosity, which is most of the time, but that isn’t always the case. For a year, I worked as a cashier at a grocery store in an upper-class, white area, where houses sold for up to a million and the average person was a doctor or lawyer. One time I asked a customer, “Is that all?” The white male replied, “Just one. Uno.” It was clearly because he thought that I was Latina. He proceeded to ask, “So where are you from, Maria?” My name tag said Mara.
I’m not one to take anything personally, especially not from a stranger; I know when to brush things off and keep moving, but it’s undeniable that there’s something plain wrong with things like that happening. It’s a level of ignorance that we should be past if we want to create a united country where everyone can feel welcome. As anyone can see, we’re not there yet.
This isn’t to say to white people “stop asking questions”, but rather to encourage respectful dialogue that comes from a genuine desire to understand one another and include one another. It’s nobody’s business if that’s her real hair or not, and you shouldn’t be touching it anyways; sounding or acting educated and proper isn’t “sounding/acting white”; consider the radical idea that she isn’t pretty “for a dark skin girl”, that she’s just simply pretty. And my name isn’t Maria.