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Today’s post is by EbonyJanice Moore. EbonyJanice Moore is a (HipHop) womanist scholar and activist doing community-organizing work, most specifically around black women’s body ownership as a justice issue, and equal access to education and pay for women of color in the U.S. and in several African countries.
My graduate school in liberal/progressive Berkeley, California has the words “dismantling white supremacy” in it’s mission statement and a “Black Lives Matter” banner on the front of the building. I will testify with my hand on all the sacred and most holy texts that it was the most white-centering space I have ever experienced in my 36 years on this planet… and this is coming from someone born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio – which was disproportionately white and oppressive during my formative years.
White supremacy is a centering that has a violent way of making other people invisible, particularly women of color – most specifically black women; until there is a need for black women’s labor. That labor can be domestic, manual, emotional, and intellectual. This pulling at black women’s energy and then discarding them back into the oblivion of invisibility is an aggression.
Let me take a very brief moment to explain why I do not believe in “micro-aggressions.” Harvard professor of education and psychiatry Chester M. Pierce created the term in 1970 to describe the countless slights, denigrations, and dismissive behaviors inflicted upon black Americans by others every day (Pierce, 1978, p. 66). The issue with calling them “micro,” however, is that that word insinuates that they mean less than macro-aggressions. There is a diminishing of their impact when really an aggression is an aggression. I am not less likely to respond in horror to someone slicing me with a small knife than I am if someone slices me with a large knife. Either way, a slice is a slice. It is violent.
I use to work at my grad school at the same time that I was completing my Masters degree in Social Change with an emphasis on Spiritual and Religious Leadership. As a result of working and attending seminary in the same space, I was positioned to be on both the serving and receiving end of energy exchanges with my classmates; it all just depended on whether I was sitting behind the front desk as an employee or at the desks next to them in those classrooms as a student.
My white classmates wore me out pretty much 24/7. When I say wore me out I mean that literally and figuratively. They wore me out in the literal sense in class. They would consume my knowledge. They asked additional questions of me like I was getting paid to teach them. They were reaching, demanding and wanting children from day to day. They put me on when they needed the extra thought production they could consume from me, wore me around when it was beneficial to have a smart black home-girl, and then took me off whenever they were done getting whatever they could get.
My white classmates wore me out figuratively in the fact that they never refilled once they exhausted me of my thoughts and my intellectual resources. They knew I was a work-study student when I was at that front desk but they would still ask me all manner of questions that had, literally, nothing to do with my job. For example, one week I had three different white women ask me to assist them with domestic labor. Me. EbonyJanice: The only cis-gendered black woman in full time high residency at their super white institution supposedly doing work to “dismantle white supremacy.” They wanted me to open jars for them. They wanted me to turn on stoves for them. They wanted me to change the settings on the dishwasher for them. They wanted me to wash their dishes for them.
And then they were done with me.
They would walk past me in the entrance and not speak.
They would see me at a restaurant around the corner and half smile like they were doing me a favor to speak to me.
They would greet each other in their white people yelps, shrieks and “Yays” with exclamation marks and then toss a dry, “How are you?” whenever it suited them.
They wore me out.
It is something very exhausting and triggering about being asked to take up so much space and be invisible at the same time:
“Show up EbonyJanice.”
“Don’t just sit there.”
“Your silence makes you seem like an ungrateful bitch.”
“Black girls can’t be introverts.”
“Invest in this space.”
“Give us something.”
“Dance for us if we ask.”
“Prove you are smart enough.”
“Prove you belong here.”
“Now be quiet.”
This is what a (micro) aggression looks like. This is white supremacy. This is white centering. This is violence. It may not be calling a black person the N-word or burning a cross on someone’s front lawn but it is equally as intimidating because it tells POC, particularly black women that they are not safe in this space in their own bodies so they must contort their spirits and souls within, in order to make everyone comfortable – but themselves.
“Where you show out is where I show out” is my actual anti-black racism activist and liberative sojourning life philosophy. I mean this. Usually what happens when someone aggresses against a black person, whether in some “subtle” (micro) way or in an obviously, overtly violent way, is that black people have to go out of their way to either make themselves safe by exiting the experience in silence, or being wholly uncomfortable on their own by not saying anything so as to not feel like the “aggressive” or “angry black person” – especially black women; because no one wants to be the angry black woman.
I could not care any less about being called an angry black woman (1) because 99% of people that I have ever encountered have never seen me angry so that trope is lazy and played out and (2) because if someone aggresses against me I have every right to be angry and trying to play that down and make it small will harm no one but myself; which leads to a double burden of grief that I am unwilling to shoulder on my own. Period. Because if you aggress against me, whether it is “micro” or “macro.” I’m going to call you out on it, whether that makes you micro mad or macro mad. It just is what it is.
Pierce, C., Carew, J., Pierce-Gonzalez, D., & Willis, D. (1978). An experiment in racism: TV commercials. In C. Pierce (Ed.), Television and education (pp. 62–88). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.