If you’re black (not looking at you Rachel Dolezal), then you know all about the struggle that is presenting yourself to white people in a way that will not only contradict stereotypes, but encourage them not feel alarmed enough to kill you. Or better yet, call the police to do it for them. This trait in many people of color is learned early. I’m sure most of us can remember the first time we heard our mother use her “white voice” at a store, in front of her boss, or even on the phone. We marveled at how quickly she could switch her personality from “Fix your face” to “Yes, Susan, the tulips are lovely” in no less than three seconds flat. And as the years passed, we found ourselves doing the exact same.
The universally relatable “white voice” is used in situations where we know that the only way to get what we want (i.e to be treated like a person) is to adhere to what is seen as the “norm” or, to put it more bluntly, what we know is glorified and ultimately not us.
My first experience using my “white voice” was at a very young age because as a young black person at a predominately white school, it, unfortunately, becomes necessary. What they don’t tell you about being black in America is the fact that shortly after realizing your own blackness, you must become the sole spokesperson, military, and president for your own race. And as a 5-year-old without the answers to all of the questions being thrown at you by uncultured and uninformed white people, this experience can be so startling that it may force you into needing to strip yourself of the title.
Microaggressions can most simply be defined as small and frequent acts that can contribute to a much larger atrocity. In the case of microaggressions against black people and many people of color, these can be fatal.
So we protect ourselves.
We straighten our hair and whiten our voices so that we can slip ourselves into spaces that do not want us there. We earn our respective diplomas and degrees in hopes that on paper we look less like ourselves, and more like them. We acquire positions at jobs we do not feel safe in, just so we can make enough money to not live in a “bad” part of town. And if we succeed long enough to have children, we reluctantly make sure that they know their worth is determined by how little they resemble themselves. And thus the cycle continues.
But today, when I find myself apologizing for my blackness, I take a second to remember that the world is changing. And although it may seem like this is the end of days, and our lives matter less than they ever have, this is a point of transition. We are in the midst of a revolution, and to revert back to what makes me and them comfortable would be to slow down our deliverance. So I go to protests, I call my senators, and I explain to Becky for the tenth time why she cannot touch my hair. But this time I worry about how I feel, not her.