Feb. 26, 2020

Back of the Bus

Back of the Bus

In episode 12, Back of the Bus, Elaina and Tracy discussed various experiences with microaggression and racism and their impact on worldview.


Have you ever experienced microaggression? If you have, how did you handle it? If you feel you have not, how do you know you haven’t? Microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicates hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups. In episode 12, Back of the Bus, Elaina and Tracy discussed various experiences with microaggression and racism and their impact on worldview. 

Many of us face microaggressions daily, and some may be unaware that we are or may not know how to respond or if we should respond.

Elaina shared how she and her daughter were on an elevator with three Caucasian women, and they were cheering about being in the back of the bus.

Tracy recalls when a former peer assumed the chicken meal someone had for lunch because she was the only other black person in the office.

Microaggressions are like mind games and can weigh on one’s mental state and well-being. Sometimes they are so subtle you may not even notice. Other times you may doubt or question yourself as to whether you are wrong, sensitive, or overreacting.

If the offender is someone you know, like a peer, having a conversation with them, calming could be viewed as an opportunity. They may be ignorant of the implications of their comments. Discuss it with the person without attacking their personality and without judgment.  

Elaina shared how, when she was a teen working in a shoe store, one of her co-workers told her how their husband did not like black people, but he would like her because she was different. She was completely unaware of how offensive the comment was, and she thought she was complimenting me.

If we are talking about strangers, it’s probably best to walk away to avoid an altercation. 

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Transcript

Elaina: I experienced something the other day. And is absolutely a microaggression that I think the problem is when we experience microaggressions, we don’t know if we’re just being overly sensitive or if it truly is a targeted comment, whether there was intention behind it or not, or was not intended to be taken a certain way.

Couple of days ago, my daughter and I were getting onto an elevator and I positioned myself to the far left of the elevator because that’s where the buttons are and I like to be close to the buttons. After us, three Caucasian women walked in and they somewhat migrated to the back of the elevator, but to the right.

So we were somewhat diagonal across from each other. And then when they got off, after they got on, two gentleman got on and they like, they were possibly middle Eastern descent. What was interesting is as the elevator doors close, I overheard one of the Caucasian women say to her friends, Oh, look at me I’m in the back of the bus.

Tracy: Are you kidding me?

Elaina: Oh no, I’m dead serious. So those were her exact words. And then I stood there for a moment, like questioning. Like no, maybe I misunderstood, but then her friends were like, back in the bus. Woot woot.

Tracy: Oh my God,

Elaina: I just didn’t know how to respond or how to react to it. And when we got off the elevator, the only thing I could think of is have my daughter not been standing between me and these three women. And if it was probably 15 years ago, that whole interaction would have gone completely different, but in that moment, I just had, I had no response, no reaction. I think I was somewhat just stunned.

Tracy: Shocked. Yeah.

Elaina: Because it’s like really. Like. did you really just say, make a comment about being at the back of the bus.

And it just reminds me. The racial climate and culture that we live in, that we had, that we’re experiencing within our society today.

Tracy: Yeah, and that’s the one thing about microaggression is pretty much it’s based on a fact that you unintentionally make, say, do something that may be offensive to someone else, but I feel like you bringing up our culture today,

I feel like we live in a culture in this moment where those things are unacceptable. Every time you turn on the news you’re dealing with and seeing outright racism happen. So, I feel like to give people a pass and say, Oh, they didn’t know any better is a cop out. Because in today’s day and time, people know better. Yeah, they do. And it’s dangerous for them. Cause I look at it like, yeah, you were, like you said

15 years ago, you may have had a different response. A different person on the elevator, that person could’ve gotten hurt because a lot of people don’t handle microaggressions the same way they take it as an outright racist slur or statement.

Elaina: Yeah, and I think one of the challenges with microaggressions is sometimes you as the person who’s experiencing seeing the microaggression or someone who’s a bystander to it, you don’t know if you are. actually, experiencing a microaggression because sometimes it can be so subtle. It can be so subtle. It’s not in your face as blatant racism

or discrimination, right? Sometimes it can be very subtle, and I’ll give some examples to show how it can be subtle. But you don’t know if, well, maybe I’m just in a bad mood today and they had they set that on another day, what I reacted the same way.

But in this instance, I would have, but you know what I’m saying? Like you, as you hear things and you replay it, you play it over and over again and you try to figure out what did they mean by that? How should I respond? Should I respond? Should I let it go? And I think a lot of times we don’t respond to, we let it go and we put the responsibility on ourselves to say, maybe I just misinterpreted what they said  or their intention by, or I think we automatically come up with an excuse as far as they said this. Maybe I misinterpret their intentions. Maybe they did. Like you said, they didn’t mean anything by it. I think we excuse it often because we don’t want to experience that conflict.

Tracy: Yes, and I think a lot of times that kind of makes us put the responsibility on ourselves to say, Hey, am I just being too sensitive? But I think we live in a time where you have to be culturally aware, especially as an adult. I think especially if you’re working in business, whatever you do for a living. Interacting with the outside world to me is irresponsible for you not to be culturally aware

and to realize when certain statements are or could be interpreted as being inflammatory. And I know a lot of times people do throw out there, Oh, they didn’t mean anything by it. Oh, they weren’t aware. And then you see a lot of times when people.

We live in a time where people are recording everything on their cell phones and they’re posting it on social media, and then the people are responding back, well, Oh, that’s not what I meant, and blah, blah, blah. And it’s like in today’s time, it’s unacceptable. I just don’t, I don’t get it. I don’t get it.

Elaina: Yeah. And it’s interesting. So I thought about some of the microaggressions that I’ve experienced firsthand, and it’s not necessarily about race, right? A microaggression is. It can be targeted towards any group that would be considered nondominant. Microaggression is really a manifestation of our oppressed worldviews.

So, there are these that you may view in the world, a certain class, or how you perceive a certain group of individuals, religions race, sexuality, and you know. That you may not be able to speak on it the way you want to, but sometimes you slip up or you say things, or you try to be passive aggressive about it.

That’s when it’s a microaggression. It’s like you’re not getting away with anything, but you are getting away with it because most of us don’t know how to respond to it. Because you’re like, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? So for example, I wear my hair all kinds of different ways where it natural or I’ll wear braids typically, and it used to drive me crazy when people would be like, can I touch your hair?

No, you cannot touch my hair. Why do you need to touch my hair? Am I asking you to touch your hair? They may come as like, is that your real hair? Why does that, why is that even a topic? Why is I have a conversation. Like, are you asking Taylor Swift? If that’s her real hair? Like why are you asking me if it’s my real hair?

Why does that even matter? Or, um, um, one of my favorites, and again, it was on the elevator, I don’t know what it is with me at elevators.

Tracy: I was going to say, you need to stay of the elevator Elaina. That’s a trap for you.

Elaina: I was on the elevator and I think it was at a hospital and. I got on this elevator and this older woman, she was Caucasian. She gripped her purse and clutched it closer, and I said to her, I said, sweetie, you don’t have anything in that person’s worth my freedom. I guarantee you. That just makes me wonder, when do you call those things out?

I think that if, if there’s somebody that. You’re never going to see with, and you don’t depend on that relationship or you don’t have to interact with them ever again. You can handle it however you want to, as long as you do so in a manner where no one’s safety is going to be at risk, right? You can say something or not say something.

Where as if this is somebody that you work with, you have to interact with, whether it’s a classmate, a teacher, a manager, or a coworker. Then I think it has, it’s a little different because I do think it needs to be addressed because I think for those people who may truly be ignorant to the fact that what they just said could be perceived as discriminatory or racist or sexist, they need to understand why.

So they, they don’t say it again, but then for those who do it and they know they’re doing it, it needs to be called out because they need to know that you’re not getting away with it.

Tracy: Yeah, I agree. I think those people that you know or that you have to interact with, I can totally see having that conversation with them, even if it’s so much as saying.

Even if it’s something you’re not personally offended by it. Cause I’ve heard things before where I wasn’t personally offended, but I can see someone else being personally offended and is saying, Hey, I don’t think you should make that statement. And this is why when it comes to strangers, I’m kinda on a fence with that only because I see that as being the gateway of things escalating really quickly, either on your end or theirs. Because I feel like if I do try to educate them and say something dependent on a comment, and depending on how I’m feeling that day, their response to it could lead me to go to another level, which could lead them to go to another level.

Things could escalate based off of their ignorance, but definitely people that you know or interact with. I think there’s a, there’s a way that you can educate them without it being confrontational.

Elaina: Yeah, and I’d definitely be, but somebody that you have to interact with, I think the one way that we can approach it is if you focus on the statement, the behavior, and the action, and not necessarily the person, because then maybe they won’t feel like they’re being personally attacked, and maybe it’s just like a, Hey, I heard you say this, tell me your understanding of that. And I think sometimes when you force people to have to explain what they mean.

Tracy: Yeah.

Elaina: My thoughts are that as they’re trying to explain it, maybe reality is kicking in like, Oh, that’s not a good look for me. Like what I just said. Yeah. I can see how that can be taken a certain way.

I remember in one of my classes, um. A young lady shared how she’s Latina. She’s considered Latina X, so she’s was born here, but she’s Latina and she was holding a door for an older gentleman and he was Caucasian. And I know I keep bringing that up, but it has nothing to do with just, like I said, it can be anybody in any race that is guilty of a microaggression, but she held the door open for him, and I do it often this because I don’t like the idea of the door shutting behind me. If someone is approaching, I just think it’s rude and she has the same thing, but he said to her as he, as she held the door for him, he said, Oh, thank you your people are so generous. And she was like, I’m an American. What people is he talking about?

Tracy: The one thing that comes to mind for me, and like you said, I don’t think color has to do with it. Cause this one happened when I was working with another African American woman and we were the only two in the office. It was a small office and me and another coworker, we went out to lunch and this other coworker I went out to lunch with, she was Asian, and she loved Harold’s chicken, soul food. This is what she likes to eat. So we went out to lunch and I think during the time I was fasting, but she stopped and got Harold’s. We came in the office, Harold’s chicken for those on the I’m not sure if everyone’s aware of it, but Harold’s Chicken is in Chicago. It’s the mega place for fried chicken, mild sauce, it’s, it’s the bomb. She got Harold’s chicken, we get an office, the other black woman, she says out loud, oh, I smell Harold’s. Tracy, let me get some of that. So, say to sat to her.

Elaina: That baby was just hungry,

Tracy: cause I’m the only other black person in here. You smell Harold’s and you automatically assume it’s me. And I said, no Asian girl. And she called me one thing. She called me in the office, and she apologized and I’m like, yeah. I said. You know it, it goes along with those stereotypes. And given that it’s only the two of us here, but it’s like, it’s an example of how anyone is susceptible to it. But we had to have that conversation cause I think we were both, I don’t think she realized that it came out of her mouth was she said.

Elaina: When I think of a, I always tell this story. Because what drives me crazy. I remember the first time old enough to really know who like Colin Powell was and the thing that made me curious was how it was always referred.

He was always referring to as someone who spoke so well, he sounded so educated and said, well, what does that mean? What is he supposed to sound like? I will, I will never forget that. I remember when I called, Kaiya’s father was staying with his aunt for a little while and I called and asked for him that say, Hey, Gladys, how are you?

How’s it going? How’s your day? And. She was like, I’m fine. And I was like, is Gary available? Um, who is this? I’m like, Oh, it’s Elaina, and she was like, girl, you called up here something like a bill collector sounding all proper. I was like, what was I supposed to do? Where my baby daddy at? And that’s just a, you’re right.

We do it to each other because it’s like, what was I supposed to say? Was that supposed to be disrespectful? Calling your house to ask if he was there? And so it just drives me crazy that we have these preconceived notions of how groups are supposed to act. Even when we say, I’ve been trying to coax my mother into stop calling everybody crazy.

Tracy: Yeah.

Elaina: Like stop saying that. Or, I mean it’s like we went through this whole period where you would hear people say, Oh, well that’s gay. If they didn’t like something or if they thought something was whack or was bogus, Oh, that’s gay. Stop saying that. That’s not okay. Like you don’t have to diminish a whole group lifestyle, personality culture and attach it to something negative just because you feel like it.

Like it’s not okay.  I remember, you know, growing up and in Chicago, there was this section of resellers and you go.

Tracy: Oh my God. Can I tell you this story?

Elaina: And what? But what was it called? What was the called, Tracy?

Tracy: It was called, I got in trouble for this because I wasn’t aware. It’s called Jew town.

Elaina: Yes.

Tracy: I was working, I was working somewhere and we were, I don’t know why this conversation came up and I’m like, Oh yeah, Jew town.

Yeah. My dad took me there growing up and it took a young lady pulling me to the side and saying, you know what? That’s really derogatory and this is why I didn’t realize, I never realized why it was called that. And ever since that day, I call a Maxwell street. Yeah. Even though Maxwell street is not really that close by, but people who know the area know what I’m talking about.

Elaina: You knew exactly what I was talking about when I it was blocks of stores, and people on the streets selling stuff, and it was like, what? When you were, when we were growing up, we didn’t know what that meant, it’s like, Oh, well, you know it’s Jew town because you can go and haggle prices. Like.

Tracy: I didn’t realize how I was in my twenties what was going on.

Elaina: And it’s just one of those things where it’s like we, we are all guilty of it in a sense. I always say, if someone over shares with me, I’ll have people in my circle and be like, girl, were they white? And I’m like, that is neither here nor there, but we’re laughing about it now because it’s like when we hear it, it’s like, yeah, we been there where we’ve said some stuff that is like, we really didn’t think through the impact it has, but again, it’s the manifestation of our worldview and the things that are embedded in us that we. I think consciously know that we probably shouldn’t say, but then it just comes out and this kind of low-key shade type of way.

Tracy: Yes. Yeah.

Elaina: And it’s just one of those things, and it’s just, when you’re in that moment though, it’s, you do kind of go through that period of, am I overreacting? Yeah. And it’s like, well, if I’m not overreacting. How can I address it? Do I need to address it? And I think, and to your point, I do think in that moment in the elevator with my daughter there.

There would not have been anything that I could have said or done in that moment if I would have addressed it in the moment that I think would have been appropriate for her to observe because I definitely don’t want her to have to end up at a police station sitting at uh, uh, a desk waiting for my mother to come get her while I’m locked up.

Cause I just don’t see that that would have turned out well for anyone involved had I responded to it cause I feel like had no matter what I would have said how I would’ve said it in the area that I was in, it would not have gone well. It would have not gone well.

Tracy: I have to ask you, so what was your daughter’s response, or did she immediately have the same reaction as you did or because I wonder about the younger folks if they see things.

Elaina: She didn’t get it. She didn’t understand why I was upset about it or why it bothered me, and even bringing it up to her, I brought it up to her today, like, hey, remember that whole situation about the elevator. So do you get why about me? And she was like, not really. And we kind of talked about it and I said the differences is when we were forced to sit at the back of the bus, we didn’t have a choice.

And so, for three white women to get on an elevator with African American women and make a comment about being at the back of the bus, whether joking or not was inappropriate. It’s inappropriate.

Tracy: Especially during black history month. We celebrate in Rosa parks. You really gonna go there with me?

Elaina: The day before Rose’s birthday. I always wonder when it comes to the, our history.  we talk about, like, I talk about those things with my daughter, but I don’t think she gets it. So, and, but I don’t know what experience for her to have for her to truly understand it because for her, she’s got friends that are  all different shades, all different.

They’re coming on their own and she hasn’t really experienced any of that. And I could say she has, but she just doesn’t know it, but I don’t know that for sure. You know what I’m saying? Like I just don’t know that for sure. So yeah, it’s just one of those things where you question and you just don’t know if it’s, if your concerns are, if your concerns are valid or they’re not valid.

Tracy: And I do think when you’re young like that, I don’t think you pay attention to a lot of those things. Cause I know when I was young, that was the last thing on my mind. And I had friends all races, and I never thought about things like that. It wasn’t until I got older and I don’t know if that was awareness where you start seeing those subliminal.

Messages and hearing them and seeing them and things like that. So maybe it’s something where unless you’re getting hit with something blatantly obvious, where it’s just something, as you get older, you just start paying more attention to.

Elaina: And see, for me it was a different experience because for me, although I went to schools that were very diverse, I saw like I will never forget the day I remember I was at my grandmother’s house and the neighbor, so I’ll, okay, so everybody else listening. Yes. I have some uncles who were absolute nightmares and terrors when they were children, and the neighbor had accused them of stealing their son’s bikes and their neighbors were not African American. But I remember my dad being the person would be like trying to diffuse the situation.

And I think this is the moment that I realized we were different. Because my dad kept his cool, but was just like, look, don’t come over here being disrespectful. Tell me what happened. If they did this, I will make sure that they pay for it. They return it, but don’t just come over here unless you have some proof.

Now I’m all goes, like I said, we’re terrors, so my dad probably just should have just assumed that they had did whatever the neighbors said they had done. But I think from his perspective, it’s like, this is still my family. So they’ll come over here just accusing them of stuff, unless you have some evidence of it.

During the discussion, my father was maced and I saw that and I knew in that moment that we were different. And I think at the time I may have only been like four or five when I saw that. And so that always stuck with me that were different. And it would be a little slick thing that would happen as I was coming up.

Like I remember even when I was a teenager, the first job I had, one of my coworkers. One of my favorite microaggressions, one of my best friends is black. So I don’t have a, I’m not a racist cause one of my best friends is black. But she said to me. That well my husband would like you because you’re different, different how? And so I think growing up that’s, I knew that it existed and see for my daughter, I don’t think in her world from her worldview, she’s just who she is.

Tracy: Yeah. Yeah, that’s what I said. I think with the young folks, you know, they don’t think about it. I had to have a conversation with Mekhai because his best friend is white, and now that they’re at the age where they’re driving, now they’re in a car together. They’re hanging out. I’ve had to have the discussion with him and I was pretty blatant about it. Like Mekhai, I want you to realize there’s a difference between you and your friend. When you go in the store, they’re not watching him. They’re watching you. If you guys ever get pulled over by the police, this is what I need you to do because you’re the person they’re going to be focused on when you’re in the car with him.

So, I had to cause he didn’t see the difference. He didn’t understand. I think they’ve had a situation that’s happened that kind of. Awakened him to those things, but before then, he, he wasn’t aware, and I had to have those conversations with him. I think when they’re young, they just don’t see it. It’s like if this side immediately affected me, I don’t see it. Everybody’s my friend. I love everybody. How could they be mad at me if I’ve never done anything? But it’s not how the world works.

Elaina: I’m not saying be a racist, and I’m not saying discriminate, but I would much rather for you to tell me your biases than for you to try to be undercover with it.  Because at least I know where I stand with you don’t do low key shade with me.

We keep our distance. Just don’t want to be in a position to feel a certain way because you have a problem with me for something that I have no control over.

Tracy: Right.

Elaina: Nor, would I change any of it?

Tracy: Exactly.

Elaina: And it’s not even just, and like I said, again, it’s not just about race. It could be religion, it could be sexuality, it could be gender. We have to. Get to a place where we just respect each other. And I think that instead of relying on our ignorance, and these preconceived assumptions about someone’s race, ethnicity, culture, religion, genders, sexuality, that we figure out who the person is. And sometimes maybe to some say anything.

Tracy: Yeah. Yeah.

Elaina: Sometimes you shut up.

Tracy: I was just gonna say that sometimes. Maybe just think before you talk, before you blurt things out. I’ve had to realize that the older I’ve gotten, like I need to think before I speak sometimes, because when you blurt stuff out and you don’t know who you’re gonna offend or any of that. So just think before you speak.

Elaina: Absolutely. All right, everybody. So again, if you are in a situation, whether you are targeted with the microaggression or you are a bystander to the microaggression, if it’s somebody that you’re never going to see again, you don’t really have a pulse on the situation. So, if you can’t safely address the issue, maybe just let it go.

As frustrating as it may be, but safety is always number one. But if this is someone that you interact with on a regular basis and you have to be in the same space, or you have a class with them or you work with them or whatever his situation is that you’re around this person, have a conversation. And call it out.

Just focus the conversation on the statement or the action so that person doesn’t feel that you’re attacking their character. But explain to them how the statement is perceived and what the statement can be interpreted as, explain to them, how it made you feel. And I think even if you just challenged them to explain what they meant. They may come to their own reality of, oh yeah, I probably shouldn’t say that cause I’ll tell you for years people couldn’t understand why it offended me. That is someone asked me if they could touch my hair while I was offensive. I am not a puppy. I’m not trying to pet you, so why are you trying to pet me?

I’m serious, girl. We used to have all those conversations at our former place of employment. People be like, well, I don’t get mad about that. Well, you don’t have to, but don’t touch me and no, you can’t touch my hair. It don’t matter if it’s mine. If a pay it for it if it’s somebody else’s, no, you can’t touch it.

It shouldn’t matter. Harley don’t like her hair being touched, but I think if we call it out and people realize whether intentional or unintentional, it’s not going to be tolerated. But then we can also educate, then maybe we can start to change the climate of the culture.

Tracy: Yeah, I agree.

Elaina: All right, well I think we are going to end it there, everyone. Tracy, anything else?

Tracy: No bye guys.

Elaina: All right, everybody take care. Don’t forget to check out the new shop at copequeens.com.

Tracy Hampton

Learning and Development Consultant