As I was reading the blog posts regarding microaggressions, my mind quickly jumped to my Interpersonal Communications class and the book that we just read on being assertive. When learning about assertiveness, we learned that it is important in being assertive to stand up for yourself and say something to someone when they give you a certain look, or a microaggression. The book on assertiveness says that if someone gives you a look that you take to be a passive aggressive way to discount you or what you are saying or doing, you should say something along the lines of “I’m not sure what you mean by that look. What were you trying to say?” The book explains that everyone has a right to assert himself or herself and stand up for themselves when it is necessary. However, while reading the blogs I realized that being able to be assertive in many situations is a white privilege.
Everyday people of color, especially young men of color are profiled. They are seen as criminal, unsafe, suspicious, etc. Unfortunately, this issue has to be brought to light to the eyes of many Americans through the story of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed for appearing “suspicious.” Trayvon was unarmed, wearing a hoodie, and about 100 lbs lighter than his killer, George Zimmerman, but for some reason Zimmerman felt threatened. Zimmerman has yet to be arrested under a self-defense claim. Normally, in cases of self-defense, the one claiming self-defense bears the burden of proving that is the case, but in this particular situation, the police have chosen to take Zimmerman’s word for truth. It took three weeks for this story to receive the attention it deserves, despite the recent emergence of a socially aware group both for and against Kony 2012.
In the film The Blind Side while the “white” women were eating “$18 salads” at a restaurant, Sandra Bullock’s character asks if any of the other ladies had ever been to the “other side” of town after some teasing remarks, the one woman stated; “I’m from there, but with a little hard work and now look at me”. For me this resonated with the frameworks we discussed in class on Wednesday and how if “they” just worked harder they too could live the “good life”. It also brought to mind Trayvon Martin and the way that people have stated that “if he had dressed differently” he would not have appeared to be “suspicious or threatening” again; change and conform to white society and everything will be just fine.
In light of the delayed Trayvon Martin coverage this week, Fox News caster Geraldo Rivera excused the actions of Zimmerman because of the hoodie Martin was wearing. Not only was Rivera blaming the victim, but he used a cultural frame to dismiss this grave injustice. It wasn’t just Rivera that has expressed this sentiment; this week when I was expressing my frustration and anger about the case, a friend of mine said, “I understand that it is wrong, but I can understand why he looked suspicious.” I looked at her and explained that it was problematic to assume that a young boy, who was wearing a hoodie—which plenty of white boys wear—could be looked at as suspicious because he was standing, while being Black. I explained to her how the fact that we look at Black males and immediately think of violence is problematic in of itself.
Coming into this course with previous experience in this topic, I assumed I would be prepared and conditioned to the material, at least in the beginning. However, this week I was really surprised when I found myself sinking into my old white-girl-ways. As we discussed Obama’s speech in class, in which he responded to Reverend Wright’s comment on racism in America, I sat quietly while other’s expressed Obama’s “chickening-out”. Although I completely agreed with this view point, it took me a little while to get there.
Tatum (2008) argues that there isn’t enough talk about racism in the United States. White people in the United States don’t have to talk about race, but for people of color it is sometimes impossible to escape the dialogues on race. When speaking about racism in the United States, I think it is important to remember to or for whom you are speaking. The to or for whom is often laced with racial undertones and power dynamics.