Universities across the country, including Georgetown, have become the nucleus of the burgeoning microaggressions movement which uses social media to promote dialogue about discrimination in daily life.
The Brown University Micro/Aggressions Facebook page, is one of many university movements aiming to address the prevalence of discriminating racial and stereotypical microaggressions in everyday life.
“As an African American female in a white-washed community, I understand that my hair is something of a novelty. However, that does not give people the right to come up and touch, tug or, God forbid, try to run their fingers through it whenever they please.” Comments like this are posted frequently on the page and have been echoed in similar micro/aggression campaigns across the country.
Campaigns, such as #BBUM (Being Black at University of Michigan), “The Microaggressions Project” from Columbia University, as well as #DBKGU (Dangerous Black Kids of Georgetown) and #BBGU (Being Black at Georgetown University), have brought light to the daily phenomena of microaggressions.
Aanchal Saraf, a sophomore at Brown University who has posted on Brown University Micro/aggressions, an anonymous Facebook page, stressed that microaggressions can exist anywhere and can target anyone, even at an elite university such as Brown.
“Micro/aggressions happen with frequency for folks with marginalized identities no matter where we may go. This is inescapable, even at Brown,” Saraf wrote in an email.
The word, microaggression, first appeared in academic dialogue at Harvard during the 1970’s and has since been fleshed out by professor of psychology at Columbia University Dr. Derald W. Sue. In his book “Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation,” Sue defined the term, microaggression, to describe commonplace verbal statements that hold negatively charged and discriminating undertones.
Frequently directed at racial minorities, microaggressions can be unwanted, daily happenstances that leave individuals defending or explaining their own background.
Professor of race and American law at Georgetown and author of forthcoming book, “Place Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America,” Sheryll Cashin described contemporary microaggressions as a more dimensional and covert version of traditional racism.
“A microaggression is distinct form of old style Jim Crow racism or just racial hatred,” Cashin said. “It conveys this idea that there is something about you that is inherently foreign. There is embedded in this statement the idea that you’re not from here, you’re not American.”
It is this notion of racial comfort and misperception that fueled the satirical, justice-driven campaign Dangerous Black Kids of Georgetown, created in early March to respond to specific instances of racial profiling and killing.
“Whether we are in casual clothes or dressed well, and regardless of all we have achieved, it is our skin, our blackness, that causes society to perceive us as dangerous, but there is always more than what meets the eye. Black does not equal violent, it does not equal dangerous,” the movement’s founding principles read.
Creator of DBKGU Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson (SFS ‘14) described a personal experience of racial profiling while dressed in a hoodie.
“I was wearing a hoodie walking around campus…and I was stopped by the Georgetown Police and they asked me what I was doing in the area…and I told them that I was a Georgetown student, but they didn’t believe me,” Corbin-Johnson said. “I pulled out my GoCard to show them.”
Corbin-Johnson said she sometimes feels similar judgment among the student body at Georgetown as well.
“Depending on the classes you take, people have a different perception of you where you feel like you have to represent your race well, especially in certain classes,” Corbin-Johnson said.
According to Cashin, the “micro”-ness of the statement ought not to be overlooked either, as the stereotyping statements can accumulate to hammer home the message, “You don’t belong.”
“[The statements] can be quite innocent and the person who says these things has no idea that they’re conveying a negative idea, but through the cumulative lived experience of these daily comments on the receiving end it’s the idea that they are microaggressed,” Cashin said.
Saraf, who has posted on the Brown micro/aggressions page herself, felt that the anonymous format of the page provided a space for students to voice their experiences without targeting a specific party.
“My sense is that the page exists to validate the experiences of marginalized folks to people who may not realize the implications of what they’ve been saying or doing. It is an anonymous space to call people in to the conversation on privilege without cannibalizing them individually in a public space,” Saraf said.
Cashin expressed support for social media platforms such as these in raising awareness of a diverse set of cultural experiences.
“The campaigns are a way of helping these groups become more culturally dexterous. It’s a way of educating people not of these groups what the daily, lived experience of these groups is and to make people more culturally sensitive,” Cashin said.
Corbin-Johnson stressed the value of social media platforms for informing the public in a multimedia-centric society.
“I think the best type of campaign is the one that has a face to it – it makes it more real and something tangible to hold onto,” Corbin-Johnson said.
Corbin-Johnson said that while the conception of a post-racial society can seem a far cry from reality, campaigns to raise awareness of microaggressions within daily interaction are necessary to the larger goal of equality.
“Whatever project it’s going to be, it’s going to be a process; nothing is going to happen overnight, but you can’t let the problem resolve itself because I don’t feel like it ever would on its own,” Corbin-Johnson said.