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Racism and Anti-Racism in America

Everyday Discrimination with Micah

In this video, we hear about how the implicit biases in teachers and administrators lead to microaggressions against Black learners.

Excerpt From


Thank you for joining us for this segment of the Youth Civil Rights Academy as we talk about issues of micro-aggression and bias as young people experience it in their schools and in their classrooms. We welcome today Zoe and Micah, who are participants in our Somebody of dialogue program and in our Fellows Program, and we're going to have a conversation today about their own experiences in their classrooms, in their respective schools. So Welcome to you both, and thank you for joining us today, and being willing to share your experiences. Thank you for having us. Thank you so much. Well, we'll start with you Micah. I know you've had some experiences in your classrooms and in school, issues around race and gender. I wonder if you might share with us one of your experiences. Of course. So during the summer, well, at the end of the summer, we all have to go and register for our next year of classes. It's a standard procedure for everyone, where we go and we go get our schedules and take our school picture. The last thing that we have to do is go to the Book Depository, which is where we get our books. This past year definitely stood out to me. So I went with my mother and we were standing in line. Usually the longest line during the whole registration process, and we were just people watching, and watching everyone get their books. Only administrators are allowed to hand students their books because books are really expensive and they don't want to get anyone the wrong ones or have them lose it. So it was my turn to go up and the administrator, she stops and I hand her my schedule and she stops. Her eyebrows raised, and she was like, "oh my gosh. You're a smart cookie." It was a little microaggression. It wasn't a huge incidence of bigotry, but I just watched her for 30 minutes, not say anything or make a comment to that to any of the other students. But when it was me, a black girl with advanced classes, she felt the need to say something, which was unnecessary in my opinion. Thank you. That sounds very familiar to me. Both in my own high school and college experience. Well initially, I was taken aback and I was really surprised that she said something. That she was, I guess, bold enough to say something to me, and with my mother standing there. I was hurt to be completely honest, and I didn't really know how to respond in that instance because she is an administrator and I didn't want to come off as rude or disrespectful for saying I don't think you should say those things to me. But since my mother was there, she did step in, and she did respond saying, "No, she's brilliant." and the woman didn't say anything back. She was taking aback that someone had actually said something to her. So in that awkward silence where she's looking at your schedule, and she's clearly surprised or maybe had her prejudices or biases challenged, or the assumptions she had about you as a student challenged, and you're reading this on her face. Then she responds in the way that she did. How did you interpret it? What did you hear for that? From her response? I don't know. She had an air of superiority almost, that she didn't expect someone to say something back to her because she was in the position that she was in, being an administrator in the school system. I didn't feel that she was necessarily apologetic, and that she just continued on, did her task, and didn't apologize. Say, I didn't mean it in that way. She just brushed it off. In between the two of you having this exchange, what identities do you think were most important in that exchange? What of your identities and what of hers? Definitely age was a big factor, seeing as I was much younger than she was. Also, race is most obvious factor. She being a white female and me being a black female. So how has all of these things impacted your experience as a student in classes or in school? Well, it's actually the opposite of Zoe. I have to be constantly mindful of what I'm doing. I can't talk in class or I'll be labeled as a problem child. I have to always be mindful of doing my work on time. Of course, I want to get it in one time, but also not to be labeled as that black girl, that's expected of her. Re-enforcing the stereotype. Right. Exactly. A lot of my classes, I am the only black girl in there. So I feel like I have to prove myself and prove that I'm not the stereotype. So it's always in the forefront of my mind. Make sure you're doing this, make sure you're doing that. Always ask questions, always answer their questions, always do well on your test. Sounds exhausting. It's a lot to think about. This stereotype threat, that on the one hand, anything that I might do that just attributable to being a student. To me be just being a teenager, a young person, can all of a sudden be attributed to my race. Then therefore, reinforcing negative stereotypes people have for my race, and the burden of trying not to reinforce that for others. Because there would be some other black students that come along behind me, and they shouldn't have to deal with that. That's a lot of weight, that's a to carry. Then your own aspirations, trying to break through all of that so that you can be appreciated for just who you are, as Micah, not the black girl who sits in the third row, but be appreciated for being Micah. It's a lot. So how do you feel like that's affected your experience in class? Overall, I think it makes it a little harder compared to my white counterparts, or even some of my Asian friends. I feel that I'm always singled out because I am the only black student in that they see me as excelling. Micah, she's so smart, but I think I'm targeted because I'm black. So definitely makes the dynamic a little different than some of the other students in the classroom. What would you wish for those students who would come along after you? That they can focus on just their education and not proving to their teachers that they are good students or that they can do their work, and they shouldn't have to worry about their skin color affecting their dynamic with their teacher or their relationships with other students. Just focus on school and getting good grades, and not get good grades because of your skin color. What would you like teachers and administrators and staff people to know about those students who they're interacting with everyday? Those dynamics that they're a part of or that they may just be witnessing everyday? That's these little microaggressions or these misunderstandings or these policies that land on people differently. What would you want them to know? I want them to be open because I feel that if you do point something out to people, then they're very defensive about it, and self-reflect is definitely a big thing. They get really defensive and then they say, "Well, I didn't mean it like that." But I took it like that, and that's what the problem is. You have to apologize and try to do better next time because you don't know everything. Wow, that's great advice. So it's this notion of being able to be empathetic to your students, on one level, just care. I hear you saying, that but then be able to take perspectives. So you may have had all the good intentions in the world, but can you hear the impact that it means for me as individual student? In spite of your best intentions. So take my perspective for a moment, and imagine that. If you believe me, and if you're open to what I'm telling you, consider doing something different in the future. That's great. That's great advice. Well Zoe, I think a lot of your classmates and students in general would love to hear that in those moments. That's what they're hoping for, is that somebody would stand next to them, stand with them. That's something we can all remember. Play video starting at :9:28 and follow transcript9:28 So again, I'd like to thank both Zoe and Micah for joining us today and sharing your stories, and sharing your wisdom for the benefit of the students and the faculty and staff and administrators who might see this. I've certainly learned a lot. I thank you for persevering in not only surviving, but thriving in your classwork, and in school, and doing the work that I know you both are continuing to do to make your schools better. So thank you for all of that and for today. Thank you for watching.