This is an open letter to those well-intended progressive folks who just don’t seem to get it.
I’ve been called a lot of things in my nearly 35 years of life on this planet. Some of which have been positive and quite flattering. I’ve been praised on my poise and work ethic, my ability to rise above corporate politics and pettiness. Yet, I don’t take these as compliments so to speak. I see them for what they are, micro aggressions. “You carry yourself so well.. you are so well-spoken.” What? Am I supposed to walk around staring at my 4 inch pumps, afraid to make direct eye contact with those around me and speak in unintelligible and muted tones?
I’m sick and tired of speaking up for myself, or others when that need arises, when I’m mistreated, disrespected or denigrating only to be told to “assume positive intent”. I’m sick of, “Oh, s/he didn’t mean it that way.”; You’re being too sensitive.”; I’m sure you just took it wrong.” Then I’m labeled the “Angry Black Woman” because I push back and refuse to be treated any kind of way. Don’t put your labels on me! And no, I will not assume positive intent. Truthfully your intent is what is really the issue. I am positive that you intended to offend me. I am positive that you intended to “put me in my place”. I am positive that I am intelligent enough to recognize micro aggressions when I encounter them. I am positive that I am cognizant enough to realize when you are trying to fit me into the niche that makes you most comfortable and keeps me in a non-threatening position.
Just in case you think I am speaking in generalities take these examples into account:
As a HR Consultant I facilitate training seminars and trainings. After my first of two sessions one day, I had a WASP attendee come up to me and say, “I enjoyed your training. You were so well-spoken, I was pleasantly surprised.” I waited a full two heartbeats and asked, “Pleasantly surprised at the training materials?” To which she chuckled and replied, “Oh no, I expected the training materials to be top-notch!” Pleasantly surprised? You were pleasantly surprised that as a Black woman with an Afrocentric name that I have a firm command of the English language? Why should that surprise you? I received the same, if not better, education that you did in this country. Don’t give me a backhanded compliment and then have the audacity to be shocked that I don’t thank you and smile.
I was working and having lunch in a conference room with group of co-workers who were engaged in separate conversations. Next to me two of them were speaking Spanish and I gathered up the trash and asked in Spanish, “Do you have trash?” I proffered up an open trash bag and waited a few seconds. Suddenly everything stopped and silence reigned. They both sat there looking dumbfounded and said, “You speak Spanish? I didn’t think you would speak Spanish.” Why are you so shocked that I could possibly speak any language other than English? Am I not capable of learning any language other than my native tongue? Stop making suppositions about my intelligence based on your own limited worldview. By the by, I took 8 years of Spanish beginning in middle school and went through college as well. I also learned Brazilian Portuguese.
A colleague was upset that I pushed back regarding me wanting to stick to a particular policy and procedure. While I know that there are gray areas and that exceptions will need to be made from time to time, circumventing this particular process would, and did eventually, prove to be detrimental in the end. When approached outside by this colleague I was told what I was and wasn’t going to do. When I professionally, calmly and tactfully pushed back, this person charged up to me, got into my personal space and said “respect my wishes.” When I reported this bullying behavior I got the party line… “s/he was just trying to get you to understand her/his point of view. Assume positive intent.” I understand and am positive that I was told to “do as I say and don’t question me!” My status as a POC and a woman does not give you the right to get into my personal space nor to assert your will upon me. I will not back down and say “Yes sir massa/ yes’m missus! I’s gon get right on dat!” No, absolutely not! If you want respect you need to give it.
I shouldn’t have to write pieces like this. I shouldn’t have to explain macro and micro aggressions to anyone. What is so disheartening is when I am told, “How dare you question me or say I have White privilege! Prove it to me!” That statement alone is evidence of your privilege.