Monday, March 2, 2020

From the Microaggression Files

I was at the eye doctor for a follow up to my recent surgery when I noticed that some of the nurses/physician’s assistants were men. (I’m not quite sure what their job title is. They take you back to a room, run eye tests, administer drops, do the eye pressure test, and so on.) I remember thinking that was slightly out of the norm, but interesting. In general we assume that jobs assisting a doctor are performed by women.

Yes, I know that’s old fashioned thinking. I’d like to see more hiring practices that challenge it.

When it was my turn I was called by a a gentleman who was easily six feet tall, and he was Black. It was then I became conscious of my internal White Lady dialogue springing into action.

“I wonder how he got interested in a job like this?”
“I wonder how many people have asked him if he plays basketball? That must get old fast.”

I soon realized, as I walked behind him in silence, that absolutely anything I could think of to say in that moment stemmed from a kind of white-centric bias that looked at a tall Black man in this particular medical environment and exoticized  him, if you will. All my Nice White Lady small talk added up to:

“Ooh. You look different. Why are you here?”

I winced. I was just walking along, minding my own business - - or so I thought - - and my brain had fallen back into microaggression mode all by itself.

It’s always there. I’m always bumping into it. I was raised in a world where whiteness was the norm, and, though I may actively be trying to break that old way of thinking and move beyond it, there always seems to be one more little corner of implicit bias I haven’t faced yet. While I didn’t say anything idiotic that day, I’m still mortified by that internal dialogue. It sounded more like my mother  than like the person I think that I am.

If you are on this journey you already know what this feels like. If you are only just beginning you may only vaguely understand why thoughts or words like this are inherently racist. But if you are on the receiving end of such language, you know.

I came across The White Fragility Self-Test by Ally Henny on Twitter this weekend. I highly recommend it. I mention it here because:

White Fragility, as defined by DiAngelo, is the result of white racial socialization. 

“White racial socialization.” That’s where that cringe-worthy Nice White Lady internal dialogue comes from. Learned at my mother’s knee, and from from every interaction in a white-centric culture from schools to shops to television shows. Now that I see that, I can’t unsee it.

But that doesn’t mean I am very good at overcoming it.

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