Everyday microaggressions

Before relocating to Christchurch many people told me that it had a nationwide reputation for being quite racist. I didn’t really take notice because in my experience racism is not unique to any particular locality, it is pervasive.

My experience here is that there are not thousands of Kyle Chapman’s parading the streets with swastika’s nor is there even an obvious presence of Right Wing Resistance, well, not that I’ve encountered yet anyhow. What I have come across, far too often though is the subtle coded language of racism, what has been described as microaggressions by psychological research. I do not intend here to make a generalisation of all the people who live in Christchurch. I have experienced both subtle and overt racism in most places. But it seems particularly pronounced in the year I’ve lived here. But maybe that is coloured by the suggestions of those before I relocated.

This isn’t a post about the academic literature, it’s a little more personal. Sadly, it’s about the memory that I will take with me when I leave Christchurch. Of the time I spoke against racism and was silenced by my peers. I will remember the words of MLK Jr [see image] because I will remember that when I spoke out for people of colour (PoC), as a PoC myself,  I was alone.

MLKFor some context: UCNZ have a system whereby students can create Facebook groups using their UCNZ emails as a space to discuss coursework and foster camaraderie I suppose among students. One of those groups is for post-graduate politics and diplomacy students, and at this level, I’d have expected greater awareness of racially coded language and for the discourse to be more mature or developed.

The first incident involved  a person posting a video to the group preceded by a statement similar to the following:

“Slightly racist but does X remind anyone of Y” [both X and Y are the same ethnicity]

This immediately upset me. I responded that ‘saying something is slightly racist doesn’t justify actually being racist’. The person apologised and deleted the item. They acknowledged it was racist and that they were wrong to think it was okay to post it. Admittedly, they should have known if they had to precede the post with ‘slightly racist but..’. It does concern me that it probably wouldn’t have been removed had I stayed silent.

The following morning, I was scrolling through the group page and came across a link posted to the group to a Facebook page called Kanye West Explains NZ Politics.

Some of the meme’s created in on the page are incredibly offensive, firstly because some of Kanye’s lyrics are hideously misogynistic, and secondly, because other meme’s incorporate Kanye’s use of the ‘n word’ and trivialise the harm associated with using it in an inappropriate context, i.e. NZ Political Satire. My complaint was that I felt a page containing racist content was not particularly appropriate in the forum in which it was posted. My reasons were not that Kanye uses the term, but that it was taken out of it’s original context for the entertainment of those who have no experience of the hurt this word causes PoC’s.  As a PoC, if you have ever been called the ‘n word’, you will appreciate why I took exception to the way it was being used.

In response to one of the comments about the ‘n word’, I included the following excerpt from a Henry Giroux book Fugitive Cultures: Race, Violence, and Youth (Routledge: Great Britain, 1996) in an attempt to show why it’s use in the context was unacceptable and racist:


What emerged from my speaking out, was a shock.  Yes, I expected some resistance because I did expect that some people might not actually be aware of why, for instance, Kanye can use the ‘n word’ but a White person cannot. What I didn’t expect was to be rebuffed with the extent of invalidation that followed. I grew very distressed that those who contributed to the discussion felt entitled to shut down my experience, that I was derided for not appeasing those perpetuating the harm, and that I was undeniably invalidated by an entire group. These are microagressions. I maintain that the satire page uses the word inappropriately and it is racist. You dont have to agree with me. But you don’t get to shut down my experience and engage in microaggressions that deny my reality. You don’t get to complain that you have hurt feelings, when what you are denying complicity in hurts PoC everyday.

Microaggressions are about power imbalance and the privilege afforded to the dominant culture…they are manifestations of oppression

They manifest in three ways:

  1. Microinvalidations are verbal or non-verbal communications that subtly exclude negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of colour.
  2. Microinsults are verbal, nonverbal, and environmental communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity that demean a person’s racial heritage or identity.
  3. Microassaults are intentional messages of discrimination toward a minority group.

As  Derek Sue writes microinsults and microinvalidations are particularly harmful because they are coded or invisible and that:

“They remain invisible because of a cultural conditioning process that allows perpetrators to discriminate without knowledge of their complicity in the inequities visited upon people of colour”

I have chosen to reproduce the thread (omitting the names of those involved for privacy reasons), to allow you to draw your own conclusions, and to illustrate what invalidation looks like and to say in unity with all PoC and marginalised groups IT’S NOT OK.

 [Person A]*

August 16 at 2:15pm

My intellectual contribution to the page.

Kanye West Lyrics Explain NZ Politics

Community · 7,118 Likes


Seen by 31

3 people like this.

 [Person B] Person C bet you to it lol

August 16 at 2:16pm · Like · 2

[Person B] Somewhere? Wherever he posted it. Nevermind lol.

August 16 at 2:16pm · Like · 1

[Person A] Damn!!! Hahah

August 16 at 2:16pm · Like

{Person C] I posted it on the nz pols page so [Person A] just trying to act all original over here

August 16 at 2:16pm · Like

[Person C] It’s an exclusive community, the riff raff always catch on to trends later

August 16 at 2:18pm · Like · 2

Carrie Stoddart-Smith I only just clicked on the link to find that this Kanye West page is incredibly offensive. I appreciate that some people think trivialising the word ‘nigger’ is all just a bit of fun, but I reiterate it is offensive. Hang on Kanye uses it? Yes, he does but Kanye is a person of colour (PoC) who has a particular experience related to its usage. This particular page trivialises that experience not just for Kanye but for every PoC because its usage is intended as entertainment for people who do not share the history and experiences of PoC who were demoralised and denigrated by the term. It is derogatory, and I am surprised it is shared it in politics and diplomacy group. Aside from the sexism and fat shaming present, the page is racist. Perhaps people might want to check their privilege before supporting or endorsing content that may not intend to, but that does demoralise PoC for your entertainment. Yes, I did complain about another post that I also thought was racist and I will continue to complain whenever I see racist content without apology.

Yesterday at 8:59am · Like

[Person C] It’s Kanye quotes over pictures of New Zealand politicians. It doesn’t claim to be anything but that, the only thing it trivialises is the state of the media and politics in New Zealand.

Yesterday at 9:38am · Like · 1

Carrie Stoddart-Smith “It’s Kanye quotes over pictures of New Zealand politicians” is a complete de-contextualisation. The purpose of the page is clearly intended to elicit a laugh at the expense, intended or not, of PoC. It may be intended to trivialise “the state of the media and politics in New Zealand” but it goes much further than that. The Admin has through their own effort selected the images and the quotes to get the response they intend – e.g. Gerry Brownlee has lyrics that poke fun at his weight – ‘fat shaming’, a number of white politicians have ‘nigger’ in the word selection of their images – this trivialises the offensiveness of the word and the experiences of PoC. It’s what PoC call #everdayracism.

Yesterday at 10:19am · Like

[Person D] http://www.sciencedirect.com/…/pii/S037821660600172X

Yesterday at 10:29am · Like

[Person E] Im pretty sure this page is intended as entertainment for anyone who may find it entertaining and not specifically for people who are not ‘of colour’. Just like Kanye’s music and lyrics are not intended only for people who have experiences related to the usage of the word nigger. I don’t think this page is racist. If it is, it’s because of Kanye’s lyrics which, I would probably agree, do seem to trivialise the word nigger. This page is just political satire, which is damaging to political discourse in NZ, but not racist. And as far as political satire goes, its not very damaging as Kanye’s lyrics don’t carry a lot of political clout. It is a bold claim to make that this page demoralises all PoC for ‘our’ entertainment, and it comes across as a little irresponsible and overly provocative in my opinion. I think it is a silly page using a silly man’s lyrics to make silly comments about NZ politics; not an attempt to demoralise PoC.

Yesterday at 10:44am · Like · 4

Carrie Stoddart-Smith I disagree Person E and I certainly dispute being the provocateur here, the page itself is provocative. I know people don’t like being called racist or being seen to endorse racism, but the page doesn’t have to intend to offend, the point is that it is offensive. Intention doesn’t determine if something is or isn’t racist. Moreover, political satire doesn’t exempt content from being racist and satire itself isn’t damaging to political discourse, racism is – especially when it goes unchecked or is passed off as something it’s not. I’ve attached the screen grab below from a Henry Giroux book, that might help spread some light on why it is offensive. As I said in my first comment above, Kanye can use the term because he understands the history and context within which he is using it. He is part of that history and context. The person in charge of the page in question is misusing Kanye’s lyrics in manner that is offensive and racist.

Yesterday at 11:30am · Like

[Person F] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXnM1uHhsOI

Yesterday at 11:47am · Like

[Person D] The claim that white people are not allowed to use nigger while black people can use it is its self racist. The use of nigger as a term of endearment is part of gangster culture and culture does not necessary equal race.

Yesterday at 11:52am · Like

[Person C] The page is about New Zealand politics not race, it ridicules New Zealand politicians. That it uses Kanye West lyrics is purely incidental, it could use Macklemore or Metallica lyrics and the message of the page would be the same. If you want to take offense you’re welcome to do so, and if that is the case then you should contact the site administrator, not post here. PERSON A is not a racist and neither are the members of this group, if you want to talk to racists you should talk to www.stormfront.org or http://www.ukip.org.

Yesterday at 12:10pm · Like

[Person G] No Person D it is not racism. Some white people already used the word nigger for a specific purpose and now some coloured people are using it for a totally different one. The two terms cannot be considered as one.

Yesterday at 12:17pm · Unlike · 1

[Person D] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3PJF0YE-x4

Yesterday at 12:26pm · Like

[Person D] I feel this demonstrates the distinction between culture and race.

Yesterday at 12:28pm · Like

[Person D] also very funny

Yesterday at 12:28pm · Like

[Person H] http://blip.tv/…/rap-critic-reviews-black-skin-head-by…

Yesterday at 12:42pm · Like

[Person B] Build rapport, then build discussion. I’m not a fan of Kanye or his lyrics but I did like the page, perhaps in ignorance, because I shared some mild amusement with others in this group concerning how a rapper’s music could relate to dirty politics. Making a stand against this is fine, but calling out “casual racism” among members of this diverse group seems to be counterproductive as it has alienated a few people – which is not what you want when tackling a big issue such as racism. For the record, I personally think this page is a very small fish in a big sea of issues (Ferguson being the big whale), and that getting to that point of the debate probably needed a different, healthier approach.

Yesterday at 1:05pm · Unlike · 3

Carrie Stoddart-Smith That’s a good point Person B and you are right I could have approached it differently. Aroha mai.

Yesterday at 1:10pm · Like · 1

[Person E] I have definitely done a lot of thinking about racism this morning because of this discussion. Too bad it won’t help me in Tan’s test tomorrow! lol

23 hrs · Like · 4

[Person A] I usually enjoy discussing political issues such as racism amongst my peers as it is a good way to share opinions and learn from one another, however, as Person B has indicated I feel this conversation has an accusatory ring to it and I am genuinely quite hurt by the implication of racism against me. Person E’s comment above illustrates my opinion beautifully so I will not repeat it here. So if it’s okay with everyone, I think its best that we leave the discussion here and engage the issue another day in a more neutral manner.

23 hrs · Like · 7


Note: I will be heavily moderating comments as I am not going to subject myself to further invalidations.