Pan-African studies tell students to rethink microaggressions

Itzzy Leon

The Department of Pan-African studies held a presentation titled “Rethinking the Race Dialogue: A Theoretical Perspective of Racial Stereotypes and Microagreesions” to discuss racial issue on Wednesday in Oscar Ritchie Hall.  

“We are intimidated of the topic or a little bit uncomfortable,” Felix Kumah-Abiwu, an assistant professor said in the Department of Pan-African Studies, who gave the presentation.

His presentation consisted of three parts with the first part providing an overview of issues in regards to stereotypes and microaggressions.

“If we don’t discuss these issues, where else are we going to discuss them?” he said. “They are overgeneralized, oversimplified and exaggerated beliefs about an entire group or individuals within the group.”

He said that not only are African Americans stereotyped, but whites and Hispanics are too, as well as other races and nationalities.

“We are making huge mistakes because individuals differ,” he said.

Derald Wing Sue, author of “Microaggressions in Everyday Life,” said microaggressions are everyday verbal or nonverbal attitudes of snubs, statements or insults — whether they are intentional or unintentional — that communicate derogatory and negative messages because of one’s identity within a certain group.

Some of these microaggressions directed towards blacks, Hispanic and different races and ethnicities include statements such as, “You’re not like the rest of them. You’re different,” and, “If only there were more of them like you.”

“What do you mean by the rest of them?” Kumah-Abiwu said.

Other statements include, “You speak excellent English,” and, “Your kids are well behaved.”

“There is a fine line between compliments and microaggressions,” Kumah-Abiwu said.

Another issue includes the portrayal of black people. Kumah-Abiwu said that blackness as a concept has been negatively portrayed for many years in the media and television.

“Who needs help? Who provides the help?” he said.

Kumah-Abiwu said that black people are always portrayed as the people who need assistance.

He also mentioned former governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley contributing to the negative portrayal of blacks by referring to black people as poor.  

“It sends negative connotation,” Kumah-Abiwu said.

The second part of the presentation discussed two theories, which were the Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the Stereotype Threat (ST).

“The Critical Race Theory provides a critical analysis of race and racism in the American society,” Kumah-Abiwu said.

Kumah-Abiwu said the saying “an equal opportunity for all” isn’t exactly true in America.

CRT analyzes instances such as a person not being able to get a job because of their name. Kumah-Abiwu said these names are what we consider “ghetto.”

The Stereotype Threat is “the risk of confirming, as a self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s social group.”

The third part discussed the consequences of stereotypes and microaggressions.

Some of the consequences are poor academic performance, mental and physical fatigue, withdrawal, low self-esteem, pain, anger, stress, poor health and the state of engaging in constant self-negotiation strategies.

After Kumah-Abiwu’s presentation there was a discussion with the small group of Kent State faculty and students.

“These things (stereotypes and microaggressions) have such a long life,” said Sharon Bell, professor in modern and classical language studies.

During her first semester as a graduate student, she was told, “You speak such excellent English, how did you learn such good English?”

“After you’ve been victimized and stereotyped so many times, it’s hard to say, ‘I’m sorry, you’ve hurt my feelings,’” said Amoaba Gooden, chair and associate professor at the department of Pan-African Studies.

M.L. Temu, a professor of Pan-African studies, said that parents and teachers should prepare their kids and students and tell them, “know yourself, be responsible and then respect yourself.”

Kumah-Abiwu said that people create mental barriers between themselves and people who do not look like them.

“All these suspiciousness and fears about people who don’t look like you create invisible barriers,” Kumah-Abiwu said.

Itzzy Leon is the ethnic affairs reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].