“Are you going to open the fucking gate?” I yelled at the intercom machine. I could not see the person who I was talking to but they could see me. My morning had been particularly stressful and all I wanted to do was pick up a student and leave. This left me on edge.
Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
Here is the story:
I pulled up to the parking garage at my job. My ID card wasn’t working
Man: Your card isn’t working? (He can see me via video camera and can also see that my card is white not blue/red which is designated for students)
Me: No, its not working. I have two and I never remember which one is magnetized. Can you let me in?
Man: What is your name and your department?
Me: Tabitha Chester, Black studies. Can you let me in?
Man: Well, students are not allowed to park here.
Me: I just told you my name and my department. Are you going to open the fucking gate?
I am the first to admit I sometimes have trouble controlling my temper. On the surface this incident should not cause me to lose my cool. If, of course this was an isolated incident. Being read as a student is something that I face all the time. While many people suggest that this is a positive thing and I should enjoy looking younger than I am, the situation is a bit more complex than this. As a young Black woman who at times may appear gender non-conforming it is very hard for some people to read me as a professor. The only way I make sense to some people on a college campus, is if I am a student. My biggest issue with this occurs with staff at my university. I rarely have any issues with students or other faculty. Here is a brief list of some of my encounters:
- I was reprimanded by a librarian for not having my ID or knowing my Student ID number. When I informed her I was not a student and was a faculty member her attitude completely changed. I had so many incident with be treated rudely at the library I now have the student workers go for me.
- While standing in line for food, I am routinely passed over in favor of someone who is more easily read as staff or faculty.
- Heading to my office with a bag of tortilla chips. Some lady decided to ask was that my lunch and proceed to lecture me about unhealthy for choice as if she was my mother.
These are just some incidents. They occur when I am wear business casual clothing or jeans. They occur in person and on the phone. The resounding message becomes- you do not belong here. I speak to my friends who are also Black professors on college campuses and they have similar experiences. They are not all read as students but they are never read as college professors. Somehow regardless of age or gender it is hard for many to see us as professors. I have friends who changed the manner in which they dressed to be seen more traditionally professional, it did not alter their treatment.
Of course, this experience does not just happen to professors. Many of my Black students recount tales of being asked repeatedly to show their ID to prove they are students. Something that their white peers rarely have to do. Students have told me they have been pulled over by security on campus for acting “suspicious”. Earlier this semester at a fraternity party, students were told that Blacks and gays were not invited. Again the message becomes both explicitly and implicitly- you do not belong here. These are microaggressions that students and faculty of color regardless of institution affiliation can relate to.
I recently heard a case in Florida, where a black judge was approach by another resident in her condominium and was asked “What family did she work for?” in so many words, this man was telling her that she did not belong. His mind could only conceive that this Black woman had to be the hired help.
Stories like these are not an anomaly. These are experiences that happen every week, day or sometimes every hour. They add up and as much as I would like to admit, they affect me. I have to consciously affirm myself and remind myself I don’t need permission to be here. I am motivated by Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, who walks around with her colored wigs daring the establishment to come for her. Forcing the university to deal with her Blackness and never assimilating to university culture. When I ask her how do I have fun with my scholarship and teaching? She tells me “Just do what you want. Cost too much not to.” I won’t let microaggressions scare me from being myself. Sometimes I am will wear a blazer or I might wear a hoodie with my hat backwards. Either way you have to deal with and respect this Black Girl Genius.
But next time I will take a moment before I tell the man in the intercom to open the fucking gate.
Or maybe I won’t.
I have yet to find another faculty member who has even talked to the person on the intercom. They always just get buzzed in. I always have to prove that I work there.