Cape Town - I am certain as I write this piece that many will be able to resonate because so many would have experienced some form of discrimination during their lifetime.
Yes, in the 21st century might I add, folks have had to contend with bigotry, sexism, and downright racism of the overt kind. But since the advent of Social Media, there has been a paradigm shift in terms of how we choose to deal with such matters - the good ol’ name and shame, but whether or not offenders actually learn a valuable lesson by contemplating their shortcomings, or if this simply forces an apology to save face, e.g. #MatieUrinationScandal and #KarensGoneWild, I don't know.
Overt racism is easier to deal with because it is blunt, as unpleasant as that sounds.
It is covert racism that is harder to recognise - if offenders cannot understand their mistakes, a solution becomes trickier.
This is why microaggressions are a complex and loaded matter, but as a person of colour you just know because there is an energy you’re able to pick up on. Sometimes it is just a look, or something said in jest - we have an inbuilt sensor that reads race related matters faster than a Pentium Processor. Think of it as “Black Radar'' if you will; the aftermath of having to think critically from a young age. Being made aware of the colour of your skin, your hair, your “accent” is rather exhausting.
It must be said that we are very comfortable with who we are - there are no chips on these shoulders, baby - we’ve just been patiently waiting for “everyone else” to get there faster... But not everyone is happily ready to hop on the “Ebony, Ivory and Everything In-between Express” just yet, and this brings us to the topic at hand.
According to an article by NPR, “Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalised groups.”
If at any point it has been brought to your attention that “You speak so well", or “You're so smart, where did you get that accent from?” you’ve been “Microaggressioned”. I have experienced both here in Cape Town. Note that my accent is a boring and ordinary South African English accent, but maybe because I don’t include the occasional Afrikaapsè “Awe” or “MaSekind” into my day to day conversations, this confuses White Capies... There is obviously nothing wrong with Afrikaaps (Cape Coloured Afrikaans), it is just that I was not born and raised in a Cape Malay/Coloured cultural setting since I hail from the North...
I spoke to a Coloured woman who worked at a predominantly Afrikaans University in the Western Cape. She was repeatedly asked by a White colleague about her Afrikaans - “Where did you get your Afrikaans from?” Note that Afrikaans is her Mother tongue, but why "her Afrikaans" got under the skin of this individual, I am perplexed...
Some more tea; in 2018, a white female colleague asked me (during a meeting) if my hair was naturally straight or if I treated myself to a Brazilian (straightening). Now, you may be thinking that this is just a casual conversation between two “gal-pals” at work, no Sir. Note that we were in the middle of a very important discussion about graphics and designs for a reputable brand when she slipped that in. She was so "curious" about my hair, and this is exactly my point. It is a preposterous position to obsess on - I am not obsessing about my hair, why should she?
Another unfortunate incident; according to a source, during an online meeting with a fellow White colleague, it was assumed that the victim would know the names of various Guest Houses in rural Eastern Cape because they're black...
Please click the link below to learn more about Microaggressions and how to be an ally for change:
Jacobs is a poet and a contributor for the Cape Times