Dr. Derald Wing Sue, considered among the foremost speakers on microaggressions, visited Crossroads on Nov. 17 and gave three insightful presentations on the topic to Middle and Upper School students, employees and parents.
“In light of current events across the country, one can see that many issues today are rooted in microaggressions,” said teacher Silvia Salazar, introducing Dr. Sue. “When you hear Dr. Sue speak, please open your minds to understand other people’s realities and understand different frames of reference.”
According to Dr. Sue, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, racial microaggressions are the “everyday slights, indignities, insults, invalidations and put-downs that people of color experience in their day-to-day interactions with people who are unaware” that they said something offensive. Generally speaking, microaggressions are brief, commonplace verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities that can be intentional or unintentional.
The Portland, Oregon-born Dr. Sue gave the example of people complimenting him on how well he speaks English, assuming that he is a foreigner. When he tells them he was born in the United States, they often question him further, as if they don’t believe he’s really American. Degrading interactions like these stem from a “clash of racial realities,” in that people of color have vastly different experiences from those of “well-intentioned” white people, he said.
It’s not only the fact that a subtle slight occurred that upsets a person of color—it’s that it’s another repeated reminder of their otherness.
While microaggressions are most often talked about in the context of race, Dr. Sue noted that any marginalized group can be the subject of microaggressions as it relates to gender, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status and physical ability.
One piece of advice Dr. Sue left students with was when confronted with a microaggression, or observing a classmate doing a microaggression, “simply say, ‘What do you mean by that?’ That question itself really stops an individual and gets them, in some sense, to begin to reflect upon why you’re intervening like that.”
Later that day, he presented to faculty and staff, as well as parents.
Alma Latina club members, fellow Upper School students, faculty and staff continued the conversation and shared their thoughts on and personal experiences with microaggressions the following day.
During the open dialogue, students voiced their own encounters with various types of microaggressions. For example, a Latina student recounted feeling uncomfortable standing up to a group of her white classmates who were repeatedly using a pejorative term to describe Mexicans, and another Latina student expressed being bothered by the discrediting she receives when identifying as Mexican because she has fair skin. One white student said people often assume she’s a lesbian because she has short hair.
“When POCs or minorities actually voice out their opinions and their oppression and they’re categorized as being too sensitive, it’s just another institutional [roadblock] to keep them from speaking out,” a Latina student expressed.
A white male student spoke to his privilege, saying, “It shouldn’t be this way, but I’m lucky that other than being Jewish, I’m not going to be grouped for what I look like. It’s very unfair but I understand that fact.”
Attendees agreed that the Dr. Sue talk was a productive first step to enlightening the wider Crossroads community. Learning about microaggressions is part of the process of making the invisible visible.
“I agree with the point that the School is doing something about it [by bringing in Dr. Sue],” a Latino student said. “It’s up to us—the people being discriminated against, the student body—to keep this conversation going.”