As a community organizer by day, and night and every other weekend, I’m often invited to fancy-pants events in the name of social change. It’s most certainly a privilege for me to be invited to such spaces where I know I’m representing a whole demographic of people that don’t have the same access. Even so, my work does not make me exempt from “microaggressions”. I wanted to write up an account of a less than awesome experience, on my way to do fabulous organizing work.
Upon my arrival to the convening, I buzzed myself in with a white woman that appears to live in the building. We exchanged smiles and got on the elevator together. A floor before I got off the elevator, she asked me, “Are you the babysitter?” I was instantly offended, yet not quite sure why, though I simply responded, “No.” and got off the elevator. There were so many questions that came up like, “Whose babysitter?”, “Is it because I’m black?”, “Is it because I’m a young woman?”, “Does she need a babysitter?”, “Does the entire building have a one babysitter?”, “Do I seem like I’d be good with kids?”. This trailed off into a billion other thoughts about how awesome being a babysitter/nanny could be as a side hustle, though I’ve never taken care of other people’s kids for money in my life.
Later, I thought, “Why couldn’t I just be all up in here without having to work here?” Clearly, I’m one of the building denizens’ guests. Clearly, I was invited to be there, and there’s nothing wrong with being a domestic worker, yet I can help but think of who this woman might’ve seen when looking me and how that informed how she should engage with me.
I get it. She’s never seen my face before, and most often than not, being in an elevator with someone you don’t know might be a cause to feel a little uncomfortable or awkward. I just wish she had the sense enough not to blurt out the most insidiously racist, ageist, sexist thing she could think of and leave such a lasting impression of disdain for her in my mind. She might be a nice woman or a racist or a nice, racist woman, but I’d never really know, now would I?
On the flipside of that, I prejudge people all the time. I admit it, and actively check myself in the process, and I welcome members of my community and allies to check me, as well. Standing in the elevator of a NYC midtown elevator with a lily-white, foreign woman who may or may not live there, some prejudice things most certainly passed through my mind. I assumed she lived there, though she could’ve been a domestic worker with a key to the building and the mailbox. Maybe her question was an attempt at camaraderie. I’m not in the business of making up excuses for her audacity. My skin color and my defiant, natural hairdo, did up into a petal loc fro that day kept my presumptuous thoughts silent and smeared a smile across my face. I pretended to look as “normal’ as I possibly can next to someone who meets most European beauty standards and arouses no suspicion, as to whether or not she belongs in the building. My silence and my smile were a way for me to make her feel safer being on the elevator with me; though I’m sure she didn’t know it.
It is in times like these that I wish I had a white girl in the room. I cannot always be the angry black woman, suppressing anger or frustration or simply stuck on stupid, trying to figure out whether or not I should feel some type of way about what some random white person says to me. If I had a white girl in my pocket, I could pull her out at a time like this, and have her say to her fellow white sister, “Hey girl hey! Check yo’ privilege!”
Microaggressions are real y’all! They exist as roadblocks to the true post-racial utopia we claim exists in this here America. It’s important to recognize, resist and call out, not just tolerate racism and other oppressive tendencies on all levels. That is all.