Well, this was fun. And by "fun" I mean not fun at all.
The other day I dropped off my husband's dry cleaning. If you know me that alone is pretty remarkable. We don't do the traditional roles in my household. You can't pin us down that way.
Anyway the other day my husband asked me if I would drop off his cleaning so I did. When I got to the dry cleaner I first approached an older gentleman; the owner behind the counter. He directed me to move over to the other counter and hand the clothes to the cashier . I did.
Then the owner proceeded to stare at me. I could feel him staring but I didn't feel like dealing with it so I didn't look his way. I pretended to be intrigued by a fake robin perched on a park bench which I guess was his idea for decor. I got the dry cleaning receipt and went on my merry way.
A few days later my husband told me an adorable story. And by "adorable" I mean not adorable at all.
He told me that when he picked up his dry cleaning the owner said, "Your employee should know that normally shirts are ready a few days after not next day." Or something like that. My husband doesn't remember exactly what he said because my husband's blood was running cold.
See, my husband is White. And when this older gentleman referred to his Black wife as his "employee" he was more than a little bothered by the assumption.
Remember the BBC viral Dad whose kids interrupted him live on air? Remember how people assumed his Asian wife who valiantly got the children out of the room was his "employee"? Kinda similar right?
So let's break this down. Here are some of the "leaps of assumption" this older "gentleman" made:
- My husband has employees who fetch his dry cleaning.
- My husband couldn't possibly have a Black friend who was picking up his dry cleaning.
- My husband in no way shape or form could be dating a Black woman who did him a favor and picked up his dry cleaning.
- My husband absolutely in no way shape or form could have a Black wife.
When I dropped the order off the other cashier asked when I wanted it ready. I said, "As soon as possible would be great." She told me it would be ready the next day after 5. I said, "That's great. Thanks."
My husband picked it up the day after because that is when he was able to get over there. He didn't complain to anyone. We hadn't requested it be ready the next day in the first place. Still the owner felt compelled to make an excuse. The owner was feeling defensive.
Why didn't he say "The woman who dropped off your clothes should know... " "That lady should know..." or how about "You should now..." "It was my husband's dry cleaning after all.
Here's why. The owner was engaged in a micro-aggression:
a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.
I'm going to add this to the definition:
anything that enables a person normally in the majority to reposition and or regain their sense of power or understanding.
A statement action, incident or reflexive act that enables a person "normally in the majority" to feel comfortable after their tiny brain can't process information that makes them question their power or feel threatened.
Here's the saving grace of this story. My husband processed what the owner said and then told him off. He didn't do what I sometimes do and go into shock, shut down and come up with a Joan-Collins type speech in front of the mirror later.
My husband said, "That woman is my wife. We have 4 children. The only reason you thought she was my employee is because she is Black." He didn't let up. "What characteristics did she have that made you think she was my employee other than the color of her skin?"
He didn't accept the man's excuses. He spoke loud enough that the Black customers and Black and White employees in the dry cleaner could hear him. He was an ally. I'm proud to be his wife for that and so much more.
And I'm so tired of this shit. Seriously. Something about this man assuming I was my husband's employee really has gotten under my skin. And now I just get to walk around with it and find somewhere to put it. I wish I could have it surgically removed but I can't.
Micro-aggressions are racism in action. String a series of micro-aggressions together and that's how society collectively allows and tolerates macro-aggressions; the more overt or obvious transgressions.
And I've gotta tell ya I'm all set.
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