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Young Minneapolis Women (and Men) Feeling Uncomfortable in their own Skins

 

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2014, twenty-one Twin Cities students participated in a ThreeSixty multimedia project centered on microaggression - or as defined by Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue, “the daily verbal behavioral or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or negative racial slights toward people of color.” Inspired by a Fordham University photo project, Three Sixty asked its students to write down a microaggression they’ve experienced.

 

(A) Deborah Honore, a young black woman, carries a sign which reads: “Why do you talk so white? Stop using big words. Be a Real Nigg*.”

She writes: “I’m so confused. I don’t understand why my skin tone correlates to my intelligence. Like, it baffles me. I just thought we could be over this, and we’re not. We can be so much better than this.”

 

(B) Brianna Skildun carries a sign which reads: “You’re not Native. You’re just a white girl. (lol)”

She writes: It hurts that they judge me by what I look like rather than the things that I do. I am one of the people in the Native community that actually appreciates being Native.”

 

(C) Aamino Hirmoge, a young Muslim woman, carries a sign which reads: “Aamino thinks she’s white because she listens to CRACKERHEAD WHITE SH*T!”

She writes: “I know what race I am. I look in the mirror every day. I identify as a black person. And you’re telling me that because of the music I’m listening to, that I think I‘m white? No. That’s not how it works.”

 

Victoria Turcios, a young Hispanic woman, carries a sign which reads: “you’re Hispanic? Do you speak Mexican?”

She writes: “Mexican isn’t a language. It’s where you come from, an origin. Spanish is a language. People all over Latin America speak it, but that doesn’t justify people saying those kinds of things.”

 

(E) Kimberly Martinez, a young Hispanic woman, carries a sign which reads: “We were watching a video about illegal immigrants today and I was thinking about you.”

She writes: “You can’t just assume that everyone is an illegal immigrant or that it’s a bad thing. Because sometimes students that are illegal immigrants, it wasn’t their choice ... and their parents brought them here.”

(F) Nicelle Heu, a young Asian woman, carries a sign which reads: “Just because I’m ASIAN doesn’t mean I’m CHINESE.”

She writes: “I’m just tired of explaining myself - who I am, what I do, and what my culture is. It makes me feel like they can’t tell me (apart) from different races. I feel like I am the same as everybody, and I am not. I am one of a kind. Hmong.”

(G) Amira Warren-Yearby, a young black woman, carries a sign which reads: “I hate Black people. Oh, not you Amira -- you’re OK.”

She writes: It makes me feel pissed off, because I like being black. And I don’t like it when people try to degrade or put down other people that look like me based on how a small group of people act that look like me.”

 

(H) Madie Ley, a young white woman, carries a sign which reads: “You have no ethnicity. You’re just white.”

She writes: “It makes me feel like I can’t have a sense of uniqueness or that I can’t be different. That’s just because I’m white, I’m this generic blank slate. I can’t have an opinion. I can’t support ... or empathize.”

(I) Mina Yuan, a young Asian woman, carries a sign which reads: “The ELS class is over there, OK?” (ELS is English as a Second Language.)

She writes: “The teacher (who made the comment) was basically assuming that we were immigrants and that we don’t speak English, even though we do because we were all born here ... She was treating us as if we were less than she was.”

 

(J) Riley Davis, a young black woman, carries a sign which reads: “You’re the Whitest person I know!”

She writes: “I makes me feel like my status as a black person is invalid - because I don’t fit a stereotype. That I don’t get to identify myself as being black because I don’t fit ... the requirements of being black.”

(K) Freddy McConnell, a young black man, carries a sign which reads: “Don’t you play basketball?”

He writes: “Not every tall, black, physically fit guy plays basketball. Maybe I want to do theatre and be an actor and not play basketball.”

(L) Shay Radhakrishman, a young Asian woman, carries a sign which reads: “Hey, can you help me with my computer?”

She writes: “It’s just irritating to me, because they assume I know everything about computers just because I’m Indian and I’m suddenly tech support.”

 

(M) Andi Nadya Amanda, a young Muslim woman, carries a sign which reads: “Do you have hair?”

She writes: “Everybody who (meets) me for the first time, they say ... ‘Oh no, I thought you’re bald.’ And then I say, ‘ So, does it matter if I’m bald or not? I’m still human and I’m a girl.’ Because in my religion, they say, ‘Cover anything that you think is beautiful.’”

(N) Ingrid Sabah, a young black woman, carries a sign which reads: “You’re kinda like an oreo. You look black but you act white.”

She writes: “It’s not OK because ... they’re trying to put me in their little boxes. Like, I am not as urban or as hip-hop ... or I dress a certain way and shop at a certain place, and they’re just like, ‘Oh, you’re not like the rest of them.’”

(O) Sagal Abdiraliman, a young Muslim woman, carries a sign which reads: “Why does your religion force you to wear that thing? NO ONE FORCED ME.”

She writes: “I don’t mind people being curious, because I like when people ask me questions about what I wear or where I am from. Anybody can ask me why I wear a hijab, but ... a lot of times it comes off as rude, but they just don’t realize it.”

(P) Darwesh Singh, a young man who wears a turban, carries a sign which reads: “What do you have under there?”

He writes: “It happens anywhere, regardless of the situation. Sometimes ... I don’t even see them there, and I just hear a question [shouted out] like, ‘What do you have under there?’”

(Q) Danielle Wong, a young Asian woman, carries a sign which reads: “LOOK! I BEAT the ASIAN.”

She writes: “It (can be) kind of flattering that they assume I always reach for the stars, but then again, it also makes the Chinese person or Asian person feel like they need to please, and that is not OK.”

 

(R) Baou Lee, a young Asian woman, carries a sign which reads: “Act more like a lady. Be a woman put back into your place.”

She writes: “ I would always get this said to me because I wouldn’t be in the kitchen helping the other ladies serve the guys ... I don’t really need to do this because I don’t feel obligated. I don’t even know you.”

(S) Alayna Xiong, a young Asian woman, carries a sign which reads: “KONICHIWA, aren’t you Japanese?”

She writes: “Just because I have smaller eyes or I have yellowish skin or black hair, that doesn’t make me Japanese. Why do you have to think that all Asians are Japanese, Chinese, or Korean? I mean, there are more than that.”

 

Comments: These identity statements come from the February-March 2014 issue of “ThreeSixty”, Minnesota teens report stories and issues that matter. This issue features “race in Minnesota”. Most of the participants in this discussion were minority females. No white males participated. From the perspective of an older white man, it seemed that the white race was being perceived negatively. Many of the participants seemed to have chips on their shoulder with respect to other people’s stereotyped perceptions of them. They seemed uncomfortable in their own skins. It was unclear if the participants had these attitudes all or muct of the time or if it was something they were expected to say on Martin Luther King day.

 

One of the more interesting statements came from Brianna Skildum, a half-white native American student at Roosevelt high school in south Minneapolis. Her article was titled: “You’re only pretending.” It read:

“ If you’ve every moved away from your childhood home, you might know what it’s like to see a familiar place yet feel like you no longer belong.

For instance, you might walk past the house you grew up in and see new people living in it, or notice that the wallpaper from your bedroom has been torn off and replaced with beige paint.

As a Native American, I feel alien in my own land. Some of my peers, along with adults who I’ve just me, make me feel like I don’t belong. I’m sure it’s the same for other people and races, but I feel like this all the time.

I am a native American. Native to this country. My father is as close to being a full-blooded Ojibwe Native as you get in his generation, and I consider myself Native because of the way we carry out our daily lives. We respect the music, dance and food. We follow the same rituals of our ancestors. Whether attending powwows, dancing, singing, smudging (cleansing one;s body with smoke from sage) or going to lodge, we pride ourselves on being very traditional. Yet I’m always asking myself why I feel like I don’t belong. Why I feel so different.

I don’t fit in with the typical “white girl” group. My skin isn’t light enough. I‘m not a blonde cheerleader-type and I don’t use the same off-putting slang as my peers.
But I also don’t fit in with the “true Native” group since my skin and hair are too light for them. Because appearance is so important, I always feel compelled to hide my face or tell Natives I meet for the first time that, yes, I am one of them. That way, they don’t get the chance to decide for themselves.

So what am I?

Both sides tell me that I don’t belong and I should stick with “the other side.” Yet I’m also not allowed to call myself Native or white since I don’t fully fit the general “being” of either title.

When they look at me, they say that I am something other than what I am. Why can’t I just be?

It’s all confusing to me. How should I act when walking to my job on Lake Street in Minneapolis? I feel eyes on me, judging “She’s white.” “She’s not white.” How should I speak when I’m at school? “She only calls herself Native to get attention.” “She doesn’t use ‘Rez English.’ She’s not one of us.”

How should I respond to my peers? “She just wants to be better than us, which she isn’t She’s just white like the rest of us.”

Being Native offends whites, being white offends Natives. I can’t win.

I remember an incident from fourth grade during show and tell when I decided to highlight my moccasins, which were very important to me. When it was my turn to share, I put them on, played Native music, and proudly began to dance. But after I started, another girl in my class began mocking the music. The teacher repeatedly asked her to stop, but she replied, “What? I’m only pretending, like she is.”

I hated it so much. She thought I was “just pretending” to be Native.

It works the other way, too. My dad always talks about how the Native community is accepting of others but hard on its own. Though elders say that he is true Native, the majority of his peers criticize the way he speaks, what he does for a living and judges the fact that he married my mother, who is white. He’s “American” - or at least is trying too hard to be.

Yet our family accepts and follows Native traditions. We smudge. We go to lodge. We pray to the creator.

But those traditions aren’t enough. We are still outcasts because of ethnic factors beyond our control.

There shouldn’t be one defining characteristic of a mixed race teen. Why can’t we all just be who we are and say what we want to be? Why do we have to fit neatly in the same group as determined by someone else?

Especially with our generation, since interracial marriage is only going to increase. Pretty soon there won’t be a person alive who belongs to a singular race.

So let’s stop trying to force everyone into one.”

 

Source: ThreeSixty ThreeSixty Journalism is a youth journalism program of the College of Arts and Sciences at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

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