I couldn’t sleep last night. I tossed and turned, haunted by guilt. I could not stop replaying the moment, earlier in the day, when I committed the unforgivable against a person of color.
It happened as I was reaching into my knapsack of white privilege for my wallet while simultaneously opening a door. On the other side of the door, pushing it as I was pulling it, was a neatly dressed, pleasant-looking man evidently of East Asian descent. Startled, my eyes widened and my mouth formed and “O”; I gasped before excusing myself. The man’s expression and polite utterances were identical to mine. Our mutual surprise at simultaneously attempting to be in the same place at the same time was, well, mutual. But because I am white I had turned an otherwise mundane encounter into an ugly instance of microaggression.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of “microaggression,” here’s the definition:
Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group. [Source: Derald Wing Sue, Christina M. Capodilupo, Gina C. Torino, Jennifer M. Bucceri, Aisha M. B. Holder, Kevin L. Nadal, and Marta Esquilin, "Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life Implications for Clinical Practice," American Psychologist, May–June 2007, Vol. 62,No. 4, p. 273.]
As you can see, scholars agree that what I did was wrong. The chap on the other side of the door, though, whose reaction to our random encounter was identical to mine, did nothing wrong.
Are you so racially insensitive that you are not seeing the blatant error of my ways? Let Professor Sue, et. al. enlighten you:
Social psychological research tends to confirm the existence of unconscious racial biases in well-intentioned Whites [sic], that nearly everyone born and raised in the United States inherits the racial biases of the society, and that the most accurate assessment about whether racist acts have occurred in a particular situation is most likely to be made by those most disempowered rather than by those who enjoy the privileges of power (Jones, 1997; Keltner & Robinson,1996). [Sue, et. al., 276-8.]
In other words, and assuming I am “well-intentioned,” my door-opening micro-drama is only correctly interpreted through the eyes of a person of color. Why is this? First of all, people of my color are notorious for their tendency to
believe that minorities are doing better in life, that discrimination is on the decline, that racism is no longer a significant factor in the lives of people of color, and that equality has been achieved. More important, the majority of Whites [sic] do not view themselves as racist or capable of racist behavior.
Minorities, on the other hand, perceive Whites [sic] as (a) racially insensitive, (b) unwilling to share their position and wealth, (c) believing they are superior, (d) needing to control everything, and (e) treating them poorly because of their race. People of color believe these attributes are reenacted everyday in their interpersonal interactions with Whites [sic], often times in the form of microaggressions (Solorzano et al., 2000). [Sue, et.al., 277.]
If your take-away from Sue et.al.’s analysis is that a minority’s “perception” has greater credibility than a white’s “belief,” then you have just taken the first step toward salvation. Praise be!
If your take-away is “balderdash,” then you remain as one of
most White [sic] Americans [who] are unaware of the advantages they enjoy in this society and of how their attitudes and actions unintentionally discriminate against persons of color. [Sue e.al., 271.]
I am sure Professor Sue would pigeonhole me in the latter category. Of Asian descent, the professor was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. I know this because I attended a speech he delivered at Liberal Arts College USA in Collegetown, USA, where Professor Sue expanded on his theory of microaggression. Sue is very fond of using personal examples to make his points. I confess that I have a deep skepticism of researchers who use themselves as subjects. I regard them in the same dim light I do lawyers who defend themselves and doctors who administer self-care.
The professor spent an inordinate amount of time discussing a pet peeve of his–excuse me–the professor elaborately explained a microaggression he has suffered at the hands of countless white people. Apparently, Sue goes ballistic when a white person commits the unforgivable faux pas of complimenting him on the quality of his spoken English. He is indignant because he is a native-born American and therefore by birthright speaks perfect English.
Except he doesn’t. Sue delivered his entire talk in a sing-song cadence that is, you should pardon the expression, foreign to standard conversational English. He had exceptional difficulty pronouncing his “l”‘s, moreover, and his repeated attempts to pronounce “U-C-L-A” came out sounding like “U-C-reh-A.”
But because a minority’s “perception” has greater value than a white’s “belief,” Professor Sue remains blissfully unaware of his eccentric take on his mother tongue and supremely confident in his derogation of anyone who takes notice of it. It’s this kind of academic arrogance that undermines the validity of Sue’s claims.
Also undermining Sue’s credibility is that he shamelessly recycles his examples. Back in 2010, in a Psychology Today article, Sue told the same story he did during the 2014 lecture to illustrate (his perception of) a therapist’s microaggression against his gay patient:
A lesbian client in therapy reluctantly discloses her sexual orientation to a straight therapist by stating she is “into women.” The therapist indicates he is not shocked by the disclosure because he once had a client who was “into dogs.” (Hidden message: Same-sex attraction is abnormal and deviant.)
It is my belief that this therapist, far from equating homosexuality with bestiality, was instead telling his patient that she can relax, because her behavior is totally unrelated to what he might consider “shocking” in a sexual context.
That Sue is still pedaling this example some four years later tells me he either has no other to illustrate his point–thus making the “example” an anomaly–or that he is simply taking advantage of college students who will pay his lecture fees to hear something they could have read on line for free.
It is nothing short of a national tragedy that a generation of college students is being indoctrinated into Sue’s demagogic belief system. White students are browbeaten into thinking that anything they say or do is a reflection of their “privilege,” and is offensive to minority students. Minority students are encouraged to take offense at every encounter with a white person.
You probably think I am being a bit shrill. Honest injun, I am not. You do not need to do much research to discover just how pervasive Sue’s message has become on college and university campuses across the country. The 2007 American Psychologist article I quote from above is reverently, uncritically referenced by:
These are but a handful of examples, and they all make the same point: racism is alive and well, even though “it is difficult to identify, quantify, and rectify because of [its] subtle, nebulous, and unnamed nature.” [Sue et. al., 272.]
In other words, if the dog in the night does not bark, poke it with a stick until it does.