Last night, I went to a panel about personal branding and received an unexpected lesson instead. I usually don't attend these sort of events as I am highly critical of startup culture but there was free food, the topic piqued my interest, and the panel featured mostly POC women. So I went alone, repeating aloud to myself, "It's okay to feel scared," on the drive there.
The space was nice, the food and drink delicious, the vibe weird as fuck. The moderator of the panel--let's call her Jane--was a young, white woman with a low, husky voice who introduced the panelists from a fully lounging position, matter-of-factly purring after each introduction that each panelist was indeed "simply amazing." Jane's devil-may-care attempt at chic felt disconcerting in contrast to the sincerity of the accomplished panelists.
Moderator Jane introduced the last panelist, a black woman in her 40s named Meshell, who went from incarcerated teen to international speaker, who *truly* was amazing and insightful. Moderator Jane commented that Meshell was "the most positive person you will ever meet." To support her assertion, Jane recounted a conversation between herself and Nora, her also early-twenties white friend, who waved and laughed from across the room.
Jane laughed, "Yeah, Nora and I were joking about how nice Meshell is like OMG, she is sooo sweet, can I just have her? Can I like, just take her home? Can I have her? I just want her around forever."
I full-body cringed; I peered at the people sitting near me. Did anyone else hear that comment? Talking about "having" anyone is bizarre enough, but especially so when discussing a woman twice your age who is a member of a minority historically oppressed, and at one time not too long ago "owned," by a white overculture.
I realized I'd felt the same feeling just the night before, watching Sorry To Bother You, a movie I absolutely recommend. In the movie, Kate Berlant's character, Diana DeBauchery, condescendingly "encourages" protagonist Cassius Green, a telemarketer who discovers success by using his "white voice" instead of his normal voice as a black man from Oakland.
DeBauchery's entire persona clearly drips with racist and classist assumptions about Cassius's intellect and inner experience but she is also desperately trying to seem approachable, cool and successful to her "underlings."
The result is that she can only interact with those she unconsciously views as "lesser than" through microaggressions.
What is a microaggression? Webster defines a microaggression as "a statement, action, or incident" that is "indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority." I'll add any marginalized minority.
Diana DeBauchery perfectly illustrates blind microaggression as she alternates between her patronizing, saccharine support of Cassius and her dripping lust directed towards him after his promotion, a desire which reeks of the classic powerful-black-man-as-animalistic-sex-fantasy-projection trope.
What comes forth is a cringeworthy and compelling take on the indirect and systemic upholding of racist thought in America. While DeBauchery is so clearly a harsh satire, Moderator Jane's comment is nonfiction. I'm certain her intent was not malicious but her comment is, at best, the cultural tone-deafness of unexamined privilege. At worst, her comment is one more dreadful stitch in the fabric of oppression that is held in place by a collective habit of ignorance.
Remember that (social) media circus of white folks who got really into "punching Nazis in the face?"
Not only does this attitude serve to perpetuate the hierarchical and violent tendencies that create racist ideologues in the first place, but the focus of anger towards a small, strangely-media-platformed group of Nazis was an easy alternative from the harder work of turning inward to honestly reflect upon and dismantle one's own subtle but embedded racism.
The more we focus on "them," the less bandwidth we possess to heal our own fear.
Regular aggression is easy to see; microaggression is less noticeable but more widespread and instrumental in sustaining oppression.
Where do you perpetuate microaggressions?
I once had the startling realization that I was regularly microaggressive towards a genderqueer roommate because I was afraid to mess up their pronouns, so I would rarely look them in the eye and I avoided mentioning them at all. Once I got honest with myself about this unexamined aspect of my inner world, I was able to be emotionally intimate with my roommate and they became a dear friend of mine.
It is hard for me to say, because I want to be perceived as "good" and "with it," but I am still actively working to shine light on any remnants of a buried belief that gender-queerness is associated with psycho-emotional inferiority. Sure, I can blame my religious upbringing but I am an adult wanting to spread love into the world and that starts with loving and integrating all parts of myself, even this unsavory part that I reveal to you now.
Moderator Jane went on to make a few other questionable remarks; I left feedback directly addressing these remarks and then had some self-doubt. Am I an angry, nit-picking, bleeding heart? After some reflection, I affirmed the idea that we can do better and we should do better.
The way to hold someone accountable with integrity is to first hold ourselves accountable.
What about you? Do any of your own fears or microaggressions towards others come to mind? Are you engaged in this sometimes deeply uncomfortable process of self-reflection? Unconvering our own microaggressions is the first step to neutralizing violence we unconsciously perpetuate.
In the second module of my online course, Amphora, we will be discussing a multitude of factors present when holding space for others; one of those is cultural sensitivity: a reflective and compassionate upturning of microagressions, as a natural outpouring of one's inner work.
Eclipse season is a perfect time to lovingly do this shadow work. If you would like to join Amphora or learn more about the process of healing the Self to hold space for others please click here.
Won't you join me on this journey of self-discovery? This course will be offered in the future for $200+ but this time around it is only $75. I ask you to join me if you are in a psychospiritual healing practice or about to enter into one, because this course will prepare you and support you through the transition of discovering your unique medicine.
I love you, sweet reader,