Racism vs Microagression

Let’s talk about race. I feel like it’s a very important thing to talk about, especially now. I’m not going to talk about cultural appropriation. If you have questions about that and what it entails please click HERE to watch a very informative video on it.

What I will talk about is racism and macroaggressions. I will explain the difference of both and why it’s important to steer clear from both of them, and how to manage them if they arise.

As a Latina (Puerto Rican) in the United States it is hard to settle in. I am within a foreign culture, a different language and an enmeshed community. Even though there are other Latinos in my vicinity, they are not MY Latinos. They are from Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, and very little are from my Puerto Rico. This diverse population helps enrich the predominant white Anglo-Saxon community which I live in but it lacks the unique variables that I miss from my Home Island.

Nevertheless, I welcome this diverse diversity. It provides a sub-home from home. It provides Mexican Tienditas where I can buy my Sazon and Adobo. It provides a mixture of  ‘Ah pero bueno, eso está bien chingon. Pero es toda una puñeta para hacer.’ (i.e.  a mixture of all the slang terms). However, while I am basking in the beauty of the multiculturalism of my vicinity, there are others who struggle with our diverse diversity.

I will proceed to define the difference between racism and macroaggressions to get a better grasp of it. I will also refrain from using the word ‘minorities’ and ‘people of color’. Why? The first being that ‘minorities’ tends to have a negative connotation, at least for me. Instead of it being used to mean ‘a population that is not widely represented in a nation’, it is used to mean ‘lesser than.’ The other being, that ‘people of color’ is not an accurate description for Latinos (which is the main population I will be talking about). Not all Latinos are ‘of color’; we have white Latinos, tan Latinos, beige, brown, mahogany, cinnamon, black, Latinos. Hence, being Latino should not be a synonym to ‘person of color’. Instead of using these two terms I will use Less Represented Race (LRR) and Most Represented Race (MRR) within the context of a nation, i.e. the United States. That way there is no negative or positive connotation when talking about  either race.

Racism is when a dominate culture\race labels, demeans, stereotypes, insults, attacks or takes rights away from a Less Represented Race (LRR). There is no reverse racism. Let me repeat that THERE IS NO REVERSE RACISM. Why? Because a person from a LRR, with their opinion or action, cannot oppress or  take away rights from a Most Represented Race (MRR) in a country. A LRR person’s rights (if they have any) cannot limit a person of the MRR’s opportunities in life. A person from a LRR is limited by the MRR system and their laws, and their view on beauty, dress, hairstyle, language, etc.

Macroaggression is act of assuming a race/culture’s beliefs. I use the word ‘asume’ because they don’t understand or don’t know about the culture/race they’re talking about. Hence, the misunderstanding and unintentional racist remark or stereotyping. My experience with macroaggressions is usually a person’s well intended remark that comes off as racist. In other words, the person doing the macroaggression is trying to relate to me by utilizing limited information and false assumptions. Their attempts are usually with good intent but miss in the process of trying to make a connection. I’m not saying that macroaggressions should be dismissed as communication error and that it should be brushed off. Hell nah! I’m just saying that clarifying the other person’s intent is important to identify your retort/correction to their assumption.

However, it is important to clarify the statement before getting into a heated conversation about race and how they are racist. Usually, if the other person did not intend to come off as racist it will be evident when you ask them about their assumption. Nevertheless, if this person holds on to their belief that they know more about your race or that they are right in their assumption (for whatever dumbass reason), then it IS considered racism because they are dismissing your beliefs, your culture and experiences by re-defining it into a box that they better understand.

Let me give you an example: A couple of months back I had the displeasure of working with a white female who held a position of power. She knew I was Latina and she knew about my connection with the Mexican community. One day we were talking about families and the values that were ingrained in cultures. I tried to explain how the Latino family worked, whole specifying that not all Latino families worked that way. I explained that in my case my family was very important and that parents are usually held at a high position. This being, that no matter my age, I could not challenge my parents without it being seen as disrespectful. Also, that there is a sense of loyalty and fear towards parents. The lady I worked for was quick to retort, ‘That is so like Latinos to fall into that Catholic commandment of not disrespecting parents.’ I corrected her and let her know that my family is not Catholic (in any way), and that ‘disrespect’ in Puerto Rican culture does not mean the same thing and can be used very radically by elders to command obedience. The lady brushed me off and said, ‘well research shows that all Latino communities’ values come from Catholicism and that is why…’

It was in that moment that I lost all identity, ownership or authority over my experiences, my culture and my history. This woman yanked from me something that she did not know and was unwilling to learn about. She, on the other hand, was more than ready to place all my life within a box that she constructed after reading a handful of (probably outdated) research papers. It was in that moment that a macroaggression turner into racism.

It’s really hard to deal with this type of aggression, especially if there is not a community based safety net to validate your struggle and provide the space for processing. The hardest is knowing how to retaliate and how to learn to pick your battles. The former can only be done if the party that is causing the aggression is aware and willing to learn. The latter can and will feel like you’re being silenced. Sadly, that is sometimes the answer; because if the party who is causing the aggression is unwilling to hear you out, then your message is not getting across.

That being said, here are some small tips I picked up on trying to work through macroaggressions and racism:

How to work/battle macroaggressions? If anything, communication is key. Clarifying is also key. The first step is to ask the person what makes them believe that their assumption is correct. Once their point is clear, if it was well natured and an honest to God mouth diarrhea, confront and label it as what it is: a macroaggression. Then proceed to lay down some mad knowledge. Of course you may not the whole information or you may only know what your personal experience has offered; and that’s okay. Just make sure to mention that. You should never be the ‘minority beacon’ (that’s when you’re the Less Represented Race person thus you know about all the LRR). Providing restructure and structure helps the person from grow and avoid being ignorant. That way you’ll be able to provide new information and stop the person from repeating that macroaggression.

Now, if the person’s response is not well intended and is clearly bigoted (like the example I provided), then you have stepped into the land of racism. A person who claims that they know more about your race/culture than you do because they read it, vacationed in your home, or saw it in a movie, are clearly racists. They are dismissing your experience and placing theirs as the real reality.

How to deal with racism? This is a tricky one because for that person to have to take into consideration what you are saying, they have to be willing to listen. And I don’t know about you, but racists rarely (if ever) listen to Less Represented Races and what they have to say. Hence, the best way to address racism is to go through the same process of the macroaggressions: ask, confront, psychoeducation Will it work? Probably not but you did your job; you put it out there and you walked away. The main key is to keep calm. If the exchange becomes a screaming match then nothing positive will come out of it. If you are in danger or feel threatened, then remove yourself from the situation.

I know it seems like a lost battle but it’s not. When you manage to be level-headed and stand by what you believe you triumph against a small-minded, bigoted butt wipe. It seems like a small win but it’s a big one in the long one.

‘But TWS I want change!

YAS! Then, my dear social justice warrior, fight for your cause! Join rallies that stand against racism and marginalization. Meet people who think alike and advocate for change.

‘But that never helps’

Nah! You’re wrong my dear Negative Nancy. The LGBTQ community fought year after year, advocating, rallying and being super resilient and now they can get legally married! Even though I am a cisgender hetero woman, this win made my life 100,000,000,000 better. Being able to see my dear gay loved ones be able to legally get married just brought warmth to my life. That and I get to eat cake… I mean, celebrate the wonderful joining of two magnificent souls.

So don’t you dare say that persistence and advocacy don’t work. It may take time and sacrifice but when you fight the good fight you get great results. Also, this is a whine free zone (except on wine night. Get it? Puns!). If you believe in something go fight for it. Don’t just stand there and complain. Be the change you want to see in the world. Go be fabulous and strong, like Xena the Warrior princess.

Be strong. Be smart. Be the change this world needs.

Signing off, TWS

P.S. As a last important piece of this post, I want you to always remember that: folk from the Most Represented Race in a nation can NEVER, and I say NEVER, define what macroaggression or racism is, what it felt like or what does it do to folks of the Less Represented Race. This being that if a LRR person is re-telling an experience that was clearly racist a person from the MRR cannot, and should not, defend the party that aggravated the LRR by saying, ‘Oh, I bet they didn’t meant it that way. It was clearly a macroaggression.’ As a MRR person, you were not there; you did not experience the aggression.  Do not take the voice, strength and right of those less represented by diminishing their struggle.

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