Maybe it’s the Just World Hypothesis or maybe it’s the dichotomization of racism, but for whatever reason, students are quick to claim they’ve been cured of racism. Racism, it would appear, is a big problem… for other people. Or older generations. Or other parts of the country (like in the South). According to many students, racism is a problem, to be sure, but it’s not a problem for them.
I’ve talked at length here at SociologySource about the need to teach our students that racism is more than overt hateful acts committed by ultra bigots. Racism (and all prejudice and discrimination for that matter) need to be conceptualized as problems “good, moral, and honest” people have. Furthermore, when we conceptualize all prejudice and discrimination as being big events carried out by mean people, we marginalize the day-to-day experiences of socially non-dominant peoples.
The concept of microaggressions helps my students understand the more everyday side of racism. Microaggressions are defined by Solórzano et al. (2002) as, “subtle verbal and non-verbal insults directed at non-whites, often done automatically or unconsciously” (Pp. 17). This conceptual framework also does a great job of separating the intent of an action from the impact that action has.
Franchesca Ramsey’s Sh*t White Girls Say About Black Girls is one of the best illustrations of the microaggressions concept. Ramsey satirizes white microaggressions in a way that is both painfully funny and painfully honest.
When this video came out it quickly went viral and then was parodied by a number of white actors who thought it was racist to point the finger at white women. The article “Not Everyone’s Laughing At ‘Sh*t White Girls Say To Black Girls’” by Tami Winfrey Harris at Clutch magazine does a fantastic job of reporting the backlash and critiquing the false equivalence of microaggressions targeted toward whites. Winfrey Harris uses microaggressions to analyze both Ramsey’s video and the backlash to it in her article and draws attention to the blog Microaggressions.com. This is a fantastic site of user submitted stories of microaggressions they have experienced in their everyday lives.
Pairing Ramsey’s video, Winfrey Harris’s article, and Microaggressions.com seemed like too potent a pedagogical opportunity to not use in my classes. I put together a quick written assignment for students to do before coming to class that will hopefully start a vibrant discussion on racism and microaggressions (Download it Word | pdf). Unlike most of the things I post here at SociologySource, I haven’t tried this one yet, but I plan to this fall.
If you’ve taught microaggressions before or if you have any suggestions/additions to this project hit me up on Twitter @SociologySource, on our Facebook page, or email me at Nathan @ SociologySource . Com.
To be clear, I do mean all students. While white students have been, in my experience, more likely to celebrate the end of racism, I have found that students of all racial ethnic groups espouse that same idea. Some students only argue that they are cured of racism and others argue that racism is no longer a real social problem. ↩
Solórzano, Daniel G. and Delgado Bernal, Dolores 2001 ‘Examining
transformational resistance through a Critical Race and LatCrit Theory Framework: Chicana and Chicano students in an urban context’, Urban Education, vol. 36, no. 3. pp. 308–42 ↩
The video is fantastic, but it’s not for everyone’s teaching style. I would also be more inclined to show it to an upper level or graduate level class. If you are going to show it to an intro to sociology class, I would highly recommend a large amount of time for class discussion and decompression. ↩
Do keep in mind that I am neither Black nor a woman, but I have heard something similar to most of the statements Ramsey makes. The video rings true to me. Just saying. ↩