An Unexpected Lesson in Dealing With Microaggressions

Microaggressions can creep up on you at the most unexpected times. It happened to me recently as my daughter and I were enjoying lunch at the local deli. I was filling her cup up at the soda fountain when a woman asked me a question that caught me off guard. I was wearing a shirt with the French words  “Ça va?” printed on the front and the phrase “Tres bien merçi” written on the back. In English, this means “How’s it going?” and “Very well, thanks.”

Be that as it may, the woman asked me, rather pointedly, “Do you know what your shirt says?” At first, I thought maybe she wasn’t talking to me. So I turned toward her and found her eyes piercing at me. That’s when I realized that a white woman was preparing to give me an unsolicited French lesson right in the middle of Jason’s Deli. I was being charged up by a complete stranger to see if I was worthy of the shirt on my back. #WTF?

So, with all the polite firmness and with a chuckle of irony, I said, “Of course I know what my own shirt says. I’m wearing it.”

But she did not relent. “Do you know French?” she replied.

Amazed that she was still speaking to me and pursuing this line of conversation, something warmed up inside of me. I looked her dead in her eye and responded, “Je parle un peu de français,” or to translate, “I speak a little bit of French.”

Now, this was not the time to rattle off the near decade of French I took in high school and college. This was not the time to spout off my résumé for the past 5 years where diversity, inclusion, equity, and culture have literally been my line of work and are within my realm of expertise. Nor was it the time to question if she knew that there are plenty of French-speaking people who look just like me from around the globe.

I had a good mind to really disturb her lunch. Maybe it was the Diet Dr. Pepper.  Perhaps it was Jesus, but I decided instead to make it a learning moment for the woman and for my 6-year-old daughter.  Yes, that woman needed to see that I am indeed the educated woman that she didn’t mistake me for, and my daughter needed to see how to confront bias with the class, grace, and razor sharpness a situation like this calls for.

After we finished our lunch, I decided to step toward the woman’s table.  “Ma’am,” I said directly and firmly, but in a normal tone. “I have an English lesson for you. I need you to look up the word microaggression. Look up the word today, because that will help you understand why I did not take kindly to your approach to me. Do you understand?” The woman, mouth full of sandwich said, “I’m sorry.”

I grabbed my daughter’s hand, and we left the restaurant.

Microaggression

Psychology Today defines the word microaggressions as:

The 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, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.

Microaggressions can happen to you whether you are black, Latino, Asian, a woman, a young person, a senior, someone with different abilities, LGBTQ or some other category in which society places us. And, according to Columbia University professor Derald Wing Sue, these microaggressions at work can kill your confidence. But there are some actions you can take in the workplace, whereas, on the other hand, sometimes confrontation only spawns a denial and downplays of the incident as trivial or even harmless.

In the book Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation, Sue writes that it is important to seek allies within the workplace who can also call out the behavior because when marginalized people do so, they are frequently told they are being too sensitive.

I don’t know all the reasons why the woman singled me out in the deli, but I discussed it with cultural and political journalist and host Jarrett Hill on a recent episode of my podcast The Culture Soup and provided a little more information about the woman who tried to charge me up over what amounted to conversational French on my shirt. Hill categorized this microaggression and other examples like it with more pointed words, but also shared that you don’t have to be white to engage in it.

The post An Unexpected Lesson in Dealing With Microaggressions appeared first on Black Enterprise.

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‘Teach Flu A Lesson’ Strives to Help Kids Stay Healthy This Season

No one wants to be sick, especially during the holidays, which is why it is especially important school-aged children get the annual flu vaccine this fall.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu is the leading cause of illness, and last year’s flu season was the deadliest in more than a decade. Young children are especially at risk. The flu spreads quickly in tight quarters such as elementary school classrooms, and children’s developing immune systems may be more susceptible to colds and flu. Children who live in low-income communities may be at even greater risk because their access to health care and preventive vaccines is often limited.

Thanks to the voluntary Teach Flu a Lesson program, thousands of underserved students throughout Southern California can receive increased protection against the influenza virus this season at no charge. The innovative partnership among Kaiser Permanente, the California Department of Public Health, 10 school districts, and 11 nursing schools is making more than 8,000 flu vaccines available at school-based vaccination clinics.

By providing the vaccine to communities with below-average vaccination rates, Teach Flu a Lesson helps ensure the most vulnerable communities can reduce their risk for infection and enjoy better health this winter.

“This program is so important — it is not only about protecting the individual child, but also protecting the school from a larger outbreak, and protecting the student’s family, including younger siblings,” said Margaret Khoury, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist and regional lead of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Flu Vaccination Program.

“Reaching out to the community and making protection available to children every flu season is the way to go,” Dr Khoury said. “Removing obstacles to getting the flu shot is the key to our success and what makes this program a model.”

Bradley Jacoby, DO and Riverside Community College nursing students.

Bradley Jacoby, DO, Southern California Permanente Medical Group (bear costume), and Riverside Community College nursing students partner for the Teach Flu a Lesson program.

This year, Teach Flu a Lesson is expected to be especially successful because of the return of FluMist, the nasal spray vaccine option. Working with the California Department of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente is making both FluMist and the standard flu shot available to young students with their parent’s or guardian’s permission. Kaiser Permanente also helped to secure assistance from local nursing schools, whose nursing students are administering the vaccines.

“The FluMist is great,” said Kevin Moore, practice specialist at Kaiser Permanente, who helps lead the Teach Flu a Lesson program with Lisa Buffong, associate medical group administrator. “It is quick to administer and less traumatic for students compared to a shot, and we know it is just as effective.”

This year, 112 Southern California schools are hosting the vaccination clinics. Participating school districts include:

  • Antelope Valley: Lancaster
  • Los Angeles County: Baldwin Park and El Rancho
  • Orange County: Anaheim, Buena Park, Santa Ana, and Savana
  • Riverside County: Riverside
  • San Bernardino County: Yucaipa
  • South Bay: Torrance

“Every year, many students miss important instructional time in the classroom because they are home sick with the flu,” said Christopher Downing, superintendent, Anaheim Elementary School District. “The value of the Teach Flu a Lesson is that it helps lower this public health barrier and ensures access to a flu shot for all of our students.”

Now in its sixth year, Teach Flu a Lesson began at schools in early October and will continue through mid-December.

“As we head into the holiday season, the key to staying healthy for children is getting the vaccine, combined with handwashing, and of course healthy eating and sleep,” said Dr. Khoury. “That’s the recipe for wellness.”

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s work in the community, please visit http://community.kp.org.

The post ‘Teach Flu A Lesson’ Strives to Help Kids Stay Healthy This Season appeared first on Kaiser Permanente.

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The Movie Green Book Is Named for a Real Guide to Travel in a Segregated World. Its Real History Offers a Key Lesson for Today

The object that provides the title for the new movie Green Book is a Jim Crow-era travel guide with extensive listings of hotels, restaurants, gas stations, shops and tourist facilities that welcomed black patronage. The book doesn’t actually get much screen time, but one small moment in the film shines a light on an oft-forgotten truth about the history of segregation in the United States: this was not just a Southern problem.

The film tells a loose version of the true story of an unlikely friendship between Dr. Don Walbridge Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) — an African-American polyglot, pianist and PhD — and Frank Anthony Vallelonga, known as Tony Lip (played by Viggo Mortensen), a nightclub bouncer. In 1962, Vallelonga was hired by Shirley’s record label, Cadence Records, to serve as the musician’s chauffeur and bodyguard during a tour, which included gigs in the Deep South. Despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which dismantled de jure segregation in public education, de jure and de facto segregation remained the order of the day in public accommodations throughout the nation. Consequently, while Vallelonga and the white members of the Don Shirley Trio, bassist Ken Fricker and cellist Juri Taht, had access to white mainstream public accommodations, Shirley remained confined by the limits of Jim Crow.

To assist him in navigating this racial landmine, Vallelonga was provided a copy of what was informally known as the Green Book. Vallelonga is primarily concerned with the logistics of travel in the segregated South, and that’s where the movie spends most of its time, but the Green Book was a valuable safety resource for black travelers in every region of the country. In fact, its initial focus was New York City, where Shirley and Vallelonga both resided. As Shirley’s tells his chauffeur, he doesn’t have to leave home in order to experience discrimination.

In 1930, New Yorker and social critic George Schuyler admonished those blacks “who could afford to do so” to “purchase an automobile as soon as possible in order to be free of discomfort, discrimination, segregation and insult,” which was part and parcel of public transportation. For certain, private motorists were shielded from public assault, police encounters notwithstanding — but blacks in cars still had to navigate the public landmines of restrooms, lodgings and eateries.

Hence, Victor H. Green, an African American New York City mail carrier, first published The Negro Motorist Green-Book in 1936 to assist black motorists in finding safe public accommodations during their travels. Green’s publication became the Bible of black travel guides and was published annually until 1966.

In the introduction to the 1949 edition, Green provided a historical overview of the first decade of the publication, noting that his ideas for his own publication had come from researching earlier African America travel guides that were out-of-print, as well as from the Jewish press, which “provided information about places that are restricted,” and from “numerous publications that give the genteel whites all kinds of information.” Green’s intended purpose for his guide was “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties [and] embarrassments.” Green admonished the black motorist to “Keep this guide in your car for ready reference.”

In a 2010 NPR interview, civil rights icon Julian Bond recalled the importance of the Green Book during trips with his family while growing up. “It didn’t matter where you went — Jim Crow was everywhere then,” he stated, “and black travelers needed this badly. My family had a ‘Green Book’ when I was young, and used it to travel in the South to find out where we could stop to eat, where we could spend the night in a hotel or somebody’s home.”

It would be easy to assume that the Green Book was just a Southern travel guide. But Green made no assumption that black people would only need his help while traveling in the South. Not only did the book include information about international travel, it also contained listings about areas in the country where segregation was less visible but no less felt. Indeed, the 1936 edition of the book was a 15-page pamphlet that focused on locales in the New York metropolitan area — where a substantial part of the book’s audience would have lived.

Despite its multicultural and liberal reputation, New York City has a sordid racial history, which dates back to the colonial era.

As Brian Purnell and Jeanne Theoharis have described for the Washington Post, racial animus in the Big Apple began with the colonization of Native Americans and importing of enslaved Africans in the 17th century. Despite gradual emancipation, which ended slavery in the state by the 1830s, and a strong abolitionist movement to eradicate slavery in the South, racial equality continued to be withheld from blacks New Yorkers. With the New York economy “wedded to slavery,” the years leading up to the Civil War were dominated by pro-slavery sentiment that lead to racial violence in the city in 1863 when Lincoln called for a mandatory draft.

After the Civil War, New York mirrored the South as “black people . . . suffered from written and unwritten rules against racial mixing in marriage, public accommodations and housing.” New York maintained its policy of segregation during the decades following WWII by constructing “housing, parks, playgrounds, highways and bridges,” Purnell and Theoharis write, which “adhered to ethnic composition rules for urban planning,” leaving segregated neighborhoods and subsequently schools intact. In 1964, the year President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which ended segregation in public accommodations and banned employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin, a New York Times poll showed that most white people in New York City believed that “the Civil Rights Movement had gone too far” in granting black demands for racial equality.

Green made clear in the 1949 edition that he was optimistic about the future of the United States, if not the future of his book. “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published,” he wrote. “That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please.”

The Green Book was discontinued shortly after its founder’s 1960 death, following a 1966-1967 Vacation Guide edition. That issue featured a statement assuring its patrons that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was fact and not fiction. The struggle was finally over.

But race still matters in the United States. As the incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia — not in the South — demonstrated this year, the nation is still full of spaces like parks, swimming pools , golf courses, sidewalks, and parking lots that are not welcoming to black Americans. During that 2010 Julian Bond interview with NPR, a caller stated, “Well, I was thinking that this [The Green Book] might be a useful tool still today . . . because in some parts of the country, there are places where black people … dare not go.”

Indeed, sixty years after The Green Book was discontinued, the search for black safety continues.

Historians explain how the past informs the present

Arica L. Coleman is a scholar of U.S. history and the author of That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia and a former chair of the Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories at the Organization of American Historians.


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