Ask Lisa Advice: Anticipating Microaggressions

anticipating Microaggressions

This week, I counsel a Black Woman whose White Fiancé calls her out for Anticipating Microaggressions

Dear Lisa,

I am not “Multiracial” but I am in a mixed relationship, which is why I am writing here. I am Black, my fiancé is White and he changes the subject every time I suggest that someone might be racist. Examples are, the classic, overly “polite” sales clerks at nice clothing stores going “Um… can I help you?” Or the taxi driver who scoots by me every time. Or my fiancé’s old “friend” we ran into, who heard he got engaged but fails to get that I’m the fiancée and, without looking at me, asks him “who the lucky lady is.” Like he couldn’t possibly be engaged to a Black chick.

I asked my fiancé why he refuses to get into discussions with me about these things. He says he hates reminders that we have very different backgrounds when we have so much else in common. (We do!)

Lately, I am afraid to complain to him about these annoying encounters even though they happen all the time. (Life, right?) I love him and I don’t want to call attention to anything that makes more of our differences if it bothers him. I don’t want to seem oversensitive, but I am starting to resent keeping these “microaggressions” (I don’t know what else to call them) to myself. I have dated 2 White guys before this (in my line of work there are not many Black men) and at some point both told me I was overreacting to things I called racist.

Not sure how to handle it this time.

RL

Dear RL,

Of course you are anticipating microaggressions! It’s bad enough that these things happen routinely, but worse that you can’t go home and vent about them to your fiancé. By challenging your statements or changing the subject, he is failing to validate your very real experiences. Your fiancé’s response leads you to censor yourself, which is making you resent him. I am sure I don’t need to tell you how unaddressed resentment impacts a relationship.

Since He is not the one Anticipating Microaggressions (or Noticing them in Any Way) it is Up to You to Turn This Around

Clearly—judging from the fact that you are engaged—you love him; he loves you, and you are both invested in making this better. So set the stage. Don’t bring this up in the heat of a spat. Do it when you are both calm. You want to be heard, so don’t start the discussion by scolding either. However, do be direct.

Say, “My love, you are planning to marry a Black woman. My being Black and your being White makes us different. These differences are okay and something to cherish, not deny, because they are real. There are things you need to know about my existence as a Black woman, things you will have to take my word for.

“For example, I am always anticipating microaggressions—small daily interactions characterized by subtle, often unintentional racism on the part of others. When I describe these things to you, I need you to listen and support me, even if makes you feel uncomfortable to hear all that.”

Then you might ask if it makes him uncomfortable to talk about race and racism. Of course it does, or he wouldn’t be changing the subject all the time. But this—here and now—is the beginning of your life together. You are setting the tone for open dialogue, providing the template for talking about race. So hold his hand and continue:

“For example, the receptionist at the dentist’s office asked to touch my hair again today.” Tell him how frustrating that was for you. If he doesn’t know what to say, tell him what to say so he knows the next time.

As a Black Woman, You are Not Oversensitive for Anticipating Microagressions

There are a zillion other Black women out there to validate your experiences. But it is crucial that your fiancé learns to validate you too. If he is truly worth your love, he will be open to learning about your world view (as you must learn his, marriage being a two-way street). You must be patient with one another and have realistic expectations given the racial learning curve. The best interracial relationships work because both members of the couple learn to see the world through each other’s eyes. If you teach your guy well, sooner or later he will enter restaurants anticipating microaggressions right along with you.

The advice offered in this Advice for the Multiracial Community column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.

The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, and this website (multiracialmedia.com) and their individual and/or collective employees, representatives, agents, principals, members, successors and/or assigns are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.

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Published on: July 27, 2017

Filed Under: Advice

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4 Responses to Ask Lisa Advice: Anticipating Microaggressions

  1. Lisa, this is great advice. I always say unless a person has walked in your shoes, it will be difficult for that individual to understand what you go through daily. So bringing these issues to the forefront is pertinent before you say, “I do.”

    • Thanks for your comment Vivienne. I agree. That’s why I like it when couples come to my office BEFORE they get married, thinking all these things through in advance.

      • Sarah Ratliff says:

        Lisa,

        That makes so much sense when marrying someone from a different culture, race or religion. Customs and gestures in one country that are considered polite can be rude in another. The non-verbal ways people communicate within one country might also be rude in another country. And of course with the U.S. and other countries having racial problems the result of hangovers of slavery and/or colonization, even within one country the subtle forms of communicating anything from love, desire, anger, racism, etc. can vary from one racial group to another.

        Great idea!
        Sarah

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