Justice

This Teen's Homework Is Going Viral for What It Says About Racism

May 30th 2017

By:
Almie Rose

A 17-year-old from Los Angeles, California, just got big praise on Twitter — for her homework. "Just completed my last presentation of my high school career," the student, Aretha Bernard, tweeted on May 24, "and this was by far the most exciting one."

The theme of the presentation for her AP psych class?

"YOU'RE ALL RACIST."

As Bernard explained in a follow-up tweet, "my presentation was on microaggression." After her first tweet went viral, people clamored to read her accompanying essay. 

What are "microaggressions"?

"The term racial microaggressions was first proposed by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, MD, in the 1970s," the American Psychological Association notes, "but psychologists have significantly amplified the concept in recent years." 

Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as "everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them."

That's also how Bernard describes in her essay, excerpts of which were posted by The Melanin Diary:

"Have you ever felt confused after someone gave you a compliment? Have you ever been offended due to someone being shocked by your level of intelligence? Also, have you felt the insincerity from someone’s motivational words? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have experienced what psychologists like to call 'microaggression.'"

As Bernard goes on to write, when she says "you're all racist," she's referring to "recent experiences with microaggression from people whom I presumed to be my friends," contrasting their perhaps unthinking prjeduce with out blatant, easy-to-spot racism. 

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions about microaggression is that we can all be guilty of being the perpetrator," Bernard told ATTN:.

She continued:

"It's not necessarily our fault. It's the way we were raised and our environmental factors. It becomes a problem and our fault when we're made aware of our actions and choose to deny the claims and/or continue to show microaggressions. I say 'we' as the human race. What people still don't understand about subtle racism is the psychological effects it has on a person. A person can become anxious, depressed, and anti-social out of fear they'll be discriminated against no matter how big or small. This can also create a hostile environment for that person and people they encounter because of past experiences. We can only take a step forward in the right direction if we acknowledge that microaggression and overt racism still exist and make a conscious change."

It's these subtle forms of racism (also known as "covert racism") that can be especially damaging. 

As Bernard explains in her essay, "this subject is sensitive for both the perpetrator and the victim because the perpetrator genuinely doesn’t see the wrong in their actions, and the victim is uncertain regarding whether or not they’re paranoid or overthinking."

Thus, "while people try to normalize microaggression, there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. Microaggression is often disguised as a compliment– seen as harmless and innocent." Bernard points to complimenting a person of color on their English, the implication there being: they're surprised by someone who isn't white having a strong grasp of the English language. Although they may think they are complimenting someone, they're actually offending them with a racist assumption.

Because such micoaggressions are disguised as compliments, however, the recipient wonders if they're being "too sensitive" or are simply "overthinking it." Bernard explains: "People of color, when encountered with microaggression, experience an internal dilemma. They begin questioning themselves asking, 'Did I interpret that right? Should I say something? Am I overreacting? What did he/she mean by that?'"

You can read her full essay on Black Girl Anonymous