Seven percent of my hometown is considered a racial minority group. Out of almost 40,000 residents, under 3,000 people are not of strictly European descent. Many factors could contribute to the overwhelming imbalance of diversity throughout the Chicago north shore: the inflated cost of living, or simply perhaps the “white” reputation that has followed areas of northern suburbia for decades. Growing up in Park Ridge, Illinois, I never noticed the extreme whiteness that I was constantly surrounded by; however, talking about microaggression in class finally defined what I had been observing for the majority of my life.
Since grammar school we have been instilled with complete acceptance of every human being we met. We had a “pledge of respect” we sang every morning after the pledge of allegiance, as high-pitched voices reiterated “I have respect for other kids you see, I have respect for those with whom I disagree, I have respect for people not like me.” For people not like us? Had I had the foresight in kindergarten to recognize the lack of diversity, I could have told you that “people not like me” did not exist.
The seven percent was blatantly obvious in high school, as the teenagers abstractly became defined by their race. Nothing was overt, no name-calling, no degradation, no apparent discrimination. My peers were never malicious, though minorities were indirectly identified by their race. I have a friend from high school who is half black, and made a nickname for himself as ‘Fitty’ in reference to his fifty percent of African heritage. Although making the name for himself, he changed his name to reflect the obvious difference between him and the other students. In the same way, when Amy from the movie Pitch Perfect dubbed herself as ‘Fat’ Amy, her reasoning was so that “twig [girls] … don’t do it behind my back.” Both Fat Amy and ‘Fitty’ changed their names at school to acknowledge their glaring deviations from the student populations so that they were not objectified behind closed doors. Asserting control over an obvious difference in appearance was the way to cope with not completely fitting in– such is the essence of microaggression.
Rather intentional or not, microaggression isolates minorities from the norm, which is especially harmful in adolescence when conformity is innate. Since the Civil Rights Movement over 50 years ago, we have been making great strides to eliminate racial prejudice, though hints of discriminatory sentiments still divide minorities in America.