I've spent my life socialized as an Asian-American female, with all its high-expectation stereotypes and perks of being viewed as being agreeable and submissive in group settings. While slowly unraveling parts of these imposed traits and keeping qualities that are truly my own, I have discovered a distinctly diametrical reality for those who are not the model minority. I will preface this post with a disclaimer: I know these experiences will not be the standard for all of an ethnic group, but I feel compelled to compare the different realities I've observed when being a model minority, and when being in association with black Americans.
Microagressions are "brief and commonplace daily verbal or behavioral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults that potentially have a harmful or unpleasant psychological impact on the target person or group" (Sue & Sue, p.110, 2008).
Walking down the street, expectations for academic performance, eating in restaurants and being approached by police officers have different connotations depending on who I'm with. Each of the previous activities have not warranted any danger or negative stereotypes when I am "Asian". Sometimes strangers nod their heads, or even bow when they walk by. Being Asian carries high expectations in academics. Somehow, whether overtly stated or assumed by others, Asians are excellent in math. I was at an after school program during a study break and one student boasted, "I'm good at math because I'm Asian." Being a small female has also been beneficial when working with officers since I assume I pose less of a physical threat.
My world view became a view of privilege and greater understanding of the implications of skin color when I started graduate school. One of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology's core values is to promote diversity awareness in the healing arts. This value attracted many students from all parts of the world. I became friends with many intelligent, and "street-smart" black American students. They were able to share their histories of receiving microagressions and having to prove themselves more simply because of perceptions of their skin color.
My partner is black. Walking down the street became interesting now that I associated myself with being black. Several people have crossed the street or walked unnecessarily around us on the sidewalk to pass by. I have never seen so many women unconsciously or consciously grasp onto their purses when I walk by when I am black. Eating at restaurants has been trying at times, too. Being approached for our orders or served after three other tables who arrived after us, restaurant after restaurant can make a person question what the common denominator for change in service was when I've frequented these restaurants for years.
When we started dating, we went grocery shopping together and he would insist I get a receipt each time. It confused me, and I sometimes thought it was silly. One time I shrugged off getting a receipt, he pleaded with me to go back and get it. When I asked about the receipts, a larger picture of instilled survival was drawn for me. He "fits" the demographic for young adult black men described on the news, and he's been primed to survive with an alibi. His word and his future may someday rely on a piece of paper with a time stamp on it. How does a parent even approach this conversation with one's child, to discuss the harsh realities of systemic inequality for a lifetime? And the one aspect of life that will hurt my heart for some time is how black men are taught how to handle being pulled over by police.
"While research supports the fact that those most disempowered are more likely to have a more accurate perception of reality, it is groups in power that have the ability to define reality. Thus people of color, women, and LGB individuals are likely to experience their perceptions and interpretations being negated or dismissed" (Sue & Sue, p.118, 2008).
What does it mean for a non-black person to write about these observations? To me, it means validation--it is a daily battle and it is real. The microaggressions are real, and over a lifetime can become numbing or accepted as a part of life. The subtle slights over a lifetime can chip away at a person until there is no other reality. For those who live in this reality, rising above the biases and internalized oppression is very difficult. I do not truly understand the difficulties, but I want to. I want to hear the stories and I want to learn. Many in the healing arts focus on cultural sensitivity to honestly understand systemic oppression and barriers to economic and social success. These barriers can also affect a person's physical health caused by increased cortisol and stress rates. In turn, the stress can impede a person's concentration and work performance.
Thank you for reading. While systemic oppression is something many do not want to read about, understanding real barriers people face can help open a conversation and acceptance of real struggles. These struggles can be invisible or dismissed. These struggles can also be used as crutches that are accepted without alternatives. It's hard to believe that a better world exists when some reminder of inequality occurs day after day. It becomes tiring. And life can become "do just enough to survive." If a person views these struggles as such, then they are. There are compassionate and highly trained professionals eager to assist in the process of healing to rise above invisible and systemic obstacles.
- Education & Race Documentary: American Promise | Melissa Harris Perry
- Outcomes for Young, Black Men | PBS
- Talking to your Kids... | Upworthy
- The Submissive Asian Female | TheSocietyPages.org
- Incarceration Rates of Black Men in Wisconsin | NPR
- Incarceration Rates of Black Men | RT.com
- Work, Stress, Health & SES | American Psychological Association (APA)
- Closing the Health-Wealth Gap | APA Monitor
- 5 Reasons Why People Code Switch | NPR
- The Race Card Project | Michele Norris
- Microaggressions on Mental Health | APA Blog
- Latinos & Subtle Racism | APA Blog
Sue, D. & Sue, D.W. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
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