To be black and to be white in the United States today, is nothing short of a challenge. It is an ultimate battle, to see that black people’s culture can be appropriation with no remorse whatsoever, to see that credit is constantly deprived of the black people (looking at you rock music), and to see that black people can continually get brutalized, dehumanized, and then blamed for their own death. It is something that we have been trained to be desensitized about, from the time when your parents sat you down and had the talk that nobody truly wants to think about. Growing up black means having people stare at you openly as you cross the street, or follow you around in the store because you’re “suspicious”. Being black in America means having people tell you “slavery was in the 1800s, it was a long time, now get over it.” Being black in America means having people tell you that “you choose to see race.” This is white privilege to its core.
The sphere of whiteness allows those people to simultaneously see themselves as unique individuals while seeing others as packs. White people enjoy a deeply internalized, largely unconscious sense of racial belongings. On a cultural level, being an individual or being a human outside of a racial group is a privilege only afforded to white people. These mentalities allow for the microaggressions that you and I face on a regular basis.
In the book Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, by Derald Wing Sue, Sue breaks down the concept of microaggressions into three subcategories to further understand what falls under the broad umbrella of a microaggression. Microaggressions may fall under one of the three categories:
- Microinsults: Microinsults are characterized by interpersonal or environmental communications that convey stereotypes, madness, and insensitivity and that demean a person’s racial, gender, or sexual orientation, heritage, or identity. Ex: When a white person in a hotel goes up to a black person, regardless of how well they dress, and asks them to carry their luggage to their rooms
- MicroInvalidations: This one is popular coming from so-called allies. Microinvalidations are characterized by communications or environmental cues that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experimental reality of certain groups, such as people of color, women and LGBTQIA+ people. An example of this would be the aforementioned, “Slavery happened over a century ago, it’s irrelevant now,” and “All lives matter.”
- Microassaults: Microassaults are conscious, deliberate, and either subtle or explicit racial, gender, or sexual-orientation based attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that are communicated or marginalized groups through name calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discriminatory actions. This is the most recognized form of a microaggression, an example being the calling of black people monkeys or apes, as Mayor Patrick Rushing recently did to the Obamas, and then claimed he was joking.
Given these definitions to further define microaggressions, it makes it easier to see my struggle with Rachel Dolezal’s continued declaration of blackness. The ability to continue calling herself black continues on the invalidations of black women who have to face the plight of being a black woman in this country without getting the privileges afforded to Rachel. Rachel gets to claim she is black, is able to run the media story to discuss how she appropriated the identity of a black woman for economic gain, all the while not speaking on the police brutality, economical disabilities of black women, and many more women. She aligned herself with black women, allying with them and becoming the president of the NAACP, while remaining silent on these struggles. Now that she has a book set to come out, it solidifies my view of her even more. I know that I am not the only woman who has faced the struggles of being “black enough” of having to work twice as hard to proved my authenticity, to continuously be slumped into the group as the angry black woman, while Rachel Dolezal gets to discuss her experience as a black woman and have it taken as true without question. Dolezal may have studied black history, but took the narrative of black women and turned it into a mockery, making it seem as though the struggle of black women, cisgender or not, is not as difficult as women have been saying that it is.
Identifying with the black community and being black are two different things. Being black in this country is a legacy of years of oppression and fight. One may identify with the black community, but only black people can be the ones to truly understand the inside of the black community to its core. This is proved time and time again as we continue to see the killing of unarmed black men, women, and children, without having national outbreaks at this injustice faced at the hand of the police, in general. One may choose to identify with the black community, but they must understand that there are some aspects of blackness that they may not understand.
Today in 2012, we lost Alesia Thomas, a black woman who died while in custody of LAPD, without repercussions once again. But her death remains unnoticed, covered up with the latest defenses of Kylie Jenner and Taylor Swift and Rachel Dolezal. How can one identify with the black community while at the same time refusing to say her name while you receive fame and respect for calling yourself a black woman?