This week, while examining an experience of observed microaggression (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’s differences/races/preferences), I was easily able to pinpoint one I wish to highlight for you.
I have a family that joined us over the past few months who consist of three children and and a single mother. This mother works for the welfare office, receives welfare herself as well as subsidized child care and has struggled through an emotional divorce from the children’s father that left her in this position. She is a friendly, strong, outspoken and firm woman who happens to be black. It has taken me aback on more than one occasion how simply she throws around phrases and comments that marginalize her own self because of her color. I notice that she seems to project microaggression onto herself, making comments like she needs to pull the “black card” and making comments about how she needs “the system.”
Recently her kiddos were reflecting on our new President in the classroom and two of her children exclaimed “Donald Trump doesn’t like black people” and a few of the other young, innocent children replied “yeah, I heard that too!” When her kids got in the car and started recapping the day, they told her about this conversation and she was angry, so she called me right away to complain that the teachers were discussing this with the young kids. She apologized for needing to be “black” today and flip out because of politics, but regardless of how she was feeling and what she was saying, I promised I would talk to the teacher on Monday so that I can learn exactly what happened.
It turns out that at circle time, one of the kids asked if we had a new President yet (it was inauguration day) and the teacher explained “yes, we do. Today we got a new President and his name is Donald Trump. Some people like him, and others do not, but it’s still important that we be respectful to one another.” After that, the kids took off on the tangent, repeating loads of things they clearly have overheard from home including “Donald Trump doesn’t like black people” as well as things like “we don’t like him. We wanted Bernie.” The teacher said the kids kept the conversation going every moment they could – as they cleaned up circle, down the hallway and even in line at the bathroom. The teacher finally got the children to stop and discussed the values behind having different opinions, but the importance that we don’t always need to talk about them. The teacher and I both explained this to the mother when she came to drop her kids off the following day and she said that she was appreciative of the message we sent – that not everyone will or has to agree, but that sometimes getting into arguments or sharing about certain subjects may cause more harm, as this is the lesson she is trying to teach her girls.
It almost seems to me that she is struggling with the fact that she is needing these services and that she is under pressure from herself not to become a stereotype. This woman is far from a stereotype, but understanding that she likely is used to the microaggression she experiences herself, being in the front seat at her job observing many types of people that may or may not embody those stereotypes and feeling self conscious about it seems to have her doing it to herself.
Understanding who families are made of, what their cultural and values based preferences are and being able to be responsive to them is so very essential to what we do. If I was not as in tune with my clients as I am, I would not have been able to be as responsive, empathetic or customer service oriented as I was able to. Because I am in tune with her, understand her family values and have experienced things like her statements regarding race or microaggression, I was able to respond in a way that makes her feel safe, supported and understood.