Lessons from the University of Oklahoma: The Macro of Microaggressions

For Harriet released a video yesterday, “Black Women OU Students Discuss SAE, Race and the University,” interviewing three young Black women at the University of Oklahoma: Aubriana Busby (Junior), Chelsea Davis (Sophomore), and Ashley Hale (senior), all students involved with OU Unheard.  I was delighted to watch and hear these interviews as well as the general footage that we have seen in the past week from Black student protesters on the campus.

for harriet

I am still so struck by the microaggressions that these women describe as part of their daily life on campus, experiences that pre-date SAE’s Lynch Mob lyrics.  Two things became very clear for me.  For starters, when you listen to these women’s stories, it becomes very clear that the daily microaggressions that Black students face on many college campuses is the price of the ticket for them being there.  The daily-ness of the racist expressions that target them, what we call MICRO, lays the very groundwork for these large-scale egregious assaults, what we call MACRO.   It is not JUST the history of racism that creates our current condition. It is also the daily experiences that sustain racism; it is this dailyness that emboldens a group of white students to execute discriminatory policies and then sing them out loud as they chronicle the exclusion of Black bodies from their club alongside their anticipatory pleasure of lynching those bodies.

This all brings me to my second moment of clarity.  I have used the term microaggression quite frequently because it has offered compelling critical frameworks for discussions of race.  The frame of “microaggressions” offers ways to distinguish daily life in a culture of race and violence from the larger institutional and structural paradigms that sustain racism.  However, when a young Black woman says that every day she walks into a classroom, she feels some kind of message there telling her she is not good enough…. when a young black woman describes going to an SAE fraternity party three years prior in her freshmen year before she even knew what a frat party was, as a moment when she was greeted by white boys openly, publicly, loudly yelling “who let the N*#%a in”… ain’t nuthin micro going on here.  I get worried when we think these experiences are MICRO solely in relationship to the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, and the whole host of our recent martyrs in the criminal justice industrial complex.  The message is: if you are not dead or beaten damn near to death yet, then your issue is small.   If white privilege were the point of comparison, the way that it seems to be for everything else, then the experiences of these young Black women in the video would all be regarded as MACRO issues.

Seeing and hearing these young women talk about what they have been asking their university to recognize in the past four years of their time at the university brought it all home.  If universities took seriously all of the daily violations that such cultures engender and sustain, if they took Black voices— past and present— seriously, then maybe they wouldn’t have to always wait for things to get so egregiously and embarrassingly bad to notice the problems right in front of them.

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