Microaggressions and the Student-Athlete
You are pretty for a black girl. Don't worry you sound white. You are like an Oreo. Can you please speak English while you are here, you are in America. No really, where are you from? Why are black women so loud? I wish I was black so I could jump high. You are only here because you are an athlete. I am colorblind. I can't say your name so I will call you "X". Good thing you are pretty. Black people are so hood. You just got in because of affirmative action. You aren't "really" black. No homo. That is so gay.
If you have heard these things being said on your team, regardless of if there is laughter, then you have heard microaggressions. Microaggressions are defined by Dictionary.com* as, "a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype or the act of discriminating against a nondominant group by means of such comments or actions."
While independently these comments seem to be very innocent and with no ill will, the reality is that these comments are heard on a consistent basis and build off each other. Microaggressions like the examples above, give the idea that being white is better than being black, speaking another language means you aren't from the US, student-athletes aren't intelligent enough to attend the school they are enrolled, and many other things. People attempt to use them as humor, "I was just joking" "don't be so sensitive it was funny" or "you know I don't mean anything by it", but in the reality, microaggressions can feel like mini knife cuts. It should be realized that it is possible the student-athlete isn't only hearing it from their team, it is likely they have heard this from other groups over and over again.
Simba Runyowa explains it best, "for historical reasons, people of color, LGBT people, and others who do not conform to the dominant demographics prevalent at most institutions of higher education in this country already don’t always feel included or welcome. As campaigns like I too am Harvard or the satirical film Dear White People have attempted to illustrate, microaggressions targeted at minorities only serve to amplify those feelings of alienation.” Microaggressions are painful and need to be treated as such. Student-athletes need to understand the effect it has on people when said. To tell someone they "sound white" means that sounding black means uneducated. To say "no homo" means that you can't compliment a person without being thought of as gay.
Microaggressions will tear down your athletes and cause them to not play at peak performance. To hear these "jokes" over and over again with cause them to want to start seperating themselves from the other players on the team, to not want to associate with them. Derald Wing Sue explains why microaggressions are tough to fully see, as they can be, "... 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. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, they are not equal to the majority to the majority racial group, threaten or intimidate them, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment."
I know, now you are asking "what do I do or how do I stop it?" Below are some ideas to help you learn how to handle microaggressions occurring on your team.
1. Educate yourself more in-depth about microaggressions.Check out the links at the bottom of this blog.
2. Have conversations with your team about microaggressions during preseason to set the tone about what microaggressions are and why it is not acceptable to joke about them.
3. Upon hearing microaggressions, take student-athletes aside to have a 1 on 1 conversation about the damage microaggressions can do.
4. Watch the video below which equate microaggressions to mosquito bites
Remember this isn't just about stopping the "knife cuts", it is about helping your athletes develop an understand of how their words unknowingly can affect their teammates and other people.
If you have any pressing questions please email me at email@example.com, we can figure this out together.
Links to articles on microaggressions
Runyowa, Simba (2015). https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/microaggressions-matter/406090/
Wing Sue, Derald (2010) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race
Microaggresion. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com online. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/microaggression