Opinion: Challenging racial micro-aggressions

Joyce Ng is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.  Contact her at [email protected].

Joyce Ng

I recently came across a BuzzFeed article titled “21 Racial Micro-aggressions you hear on a Daily Basis.” According to the article, “micro-aggression” is defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” The article listed 21 micro-aggressions that Fordham College students identified as a part of their lives. A few that I found to be the most compelling included, “What are you?” “You’re not really Asian,” “So… you’re Chinese… right?”

Issues regarding race are something that I’m hyper-aware of because I am a racial minority in the United States. I have been incredibly fortunate to have never personally experienced any form of racism in my three and a half years in the U.S.  Sure, my friends make endless jokes about me being “yellow,” my slanted eyes and my rice-eating habits, but all these are done in a good spirit. In fact, I find most of these jokes extremely funny and I laugh along—they show that my friends acknowledge and pay attention to how I look different from them. However, there is a fine line between playful statements between friends and malicious statements made by a stranger.  It’s easy to understand how someone who grew up experiencing racism does not appreciate others constantly pointing out how different they look. This is the case especially for children or teens struggling through school and simply wanting to fit in.

While racism is definitely still prevalent and true today, my experience with the Kent State community has been free of it. In fact, I appreciate it when someone acknowledges in our conversation that I look different from them and inquire about my racial background and cultural experience. Some questions which occasionally come across as racist are usually simply questions borne out of ignorance and not questions aimed to harm. Many apparently racist questions and statements, such as the ones listed on the BuzzFeed article, are telling of a person’s ignorant assumptions about race. Instead of taking offense to such statements, I simply answer them to correct their assumptions, understanding that most of the time this person is simply showing an interest in getting to know me better. I cannot take offense to someone’s ignorance – they need to account for that themselves. The next time you have itching questions about someone’s racial background, but feel afraid to do so in fears of coming across as racist, just ask them. It may surprise you how enthusiastic of a response you will get.