Rosa Parks Tweet
Tweet about Rosa Parks by @GOP on December 1, 2013. Does it show lack of awareness about the current existence of racism, or is it a poorly worded Tweet, or both?
by Ellen Belluomini, LCSW
This winter, I attended the Evolution of Psychology conference in Anaheim, California. Dr. Derald Wing Sue presented a session on microaggressions and their impact on minorities. Microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color” (Sue, et al., 2007, p. 271). Oppressed categories affected by these comments can include people of color, as well as those of minority gender, sexual orientation, and ability status. This discussion prompted my thoughts on how microaggressions occur online, their influence on the client populations we serve, and a reflection on my own online behavior.
The online environment is rampant with prejudicial statements against many different populations not in the majority. Microaggressions are about power imbalance and privilege afforded the dominant culture. These subtle forms of prejudice can create a hostile environment for minorities. The subtleness and frequency of these acts create a sense of “losing one’s mind” because “it must be me,” support an underlying lack of confidence, and/or generate impotence in action (Sue, et al., 2007). The reactions and frequency of these microaggressions in social media can prolong the impact of the statement or behavior. Vulnerable and marginalized populations are especially susceptible to these comments. There are three categories of microaggressions that flourish on the Internet—microinvalidation, microinsults, and microassaults (Sue, et al., 2007).
Microinvalidation is a verbal or non-verbal portrait refuting the experience of a population of a minority culture. This invalidating statement can be couched in a compliment. A Tweet from the Republican National Committee (@GOP) on December 1, 2013, stated “Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism.” Later, the RNC changed the quote to “Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism.” The original Tweet is an example of microinvalidation, minimizing the experience of every person who experiences racism in America. Tweeting is a brief form of communication and does not lend itself to weighty topics. The statement in this Tweet may be an example of how the white majority is unconscious of the racism existing in society, or it may be an example of someone’s incompetence in using Twitter. Either way, the ramifications intensified over the wording of this Tweet.
Microinsults are tactless or thoughtless statements conveying a subtle offense to minorities. The Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson, used microaggressions about African Americans he would work next to while picking cotton in the pre-Civil War Era south, stating, “They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what. These doggone white people’—not a word!” Initially stated to a reporter for GQ Magazine, this example exhibits his unconsciousness about the effects of racism. Microinsults on social media can range from “you write so well for a black person” to “this Pinterest is too Mexican for me.” Whether these comments are from famous people or a stranger, the microinsult can be internalized.
Microassaults are purposeful messages of discrimination toward a minority group. Following the Boston Marathon bombing, multiple articles addressed the thought of Muslim involvement. Before the bombers were identified, police issued warnings for a “darker skinned or black male with a possible foreign accent in connection with the attack.” This description initiated many microassaults through Tweets, memes, comments on social media, and news reports against persons who were Muslim or Middle Eastern. President Obama is consistently referred to online as a Muslim. Sadly, this is a microassault, not a positive adjective referencing our president.
I focused on social media here, but there are examples to be read on blogs, websites, Tumblr, Pinterest, through online course curricula, YouTube videos, or other forms of communication and play on the Internet.
When you see different forms of microaggressions, do you choose to ignore it or confront it? What are the best ways to communicate when microaggressions occur? How do we help people understand the issues with a comment or content in a way that will not put them on the defensive? Who do you trust to give you feedback on your microaggressions? How do you let down your defenses in listening to feedback? These are conversations needing to happen in all of our online circles.
I do not know if microaggressions are more acceptable through an online format, or if people’s prejudices are easier to identify because they are shouted to the world. Both seem to be the answer. When a congressperson’s speech includes microinvalidations or an actor tweets a microinsult, the communication is spread globally in an instant. There are usually two sides, either supporting or denouncing the comment. This debate occurs throughout social media. Facebook friends argue back and forth linking articles or statistics to prove their point. Memes are created to support a person’s viewpoint. Tweets shout their message to the Tweetosphere. Minority groups are inundated with microaggressions. How do these statements add to internalized oppression? The effect this form of racism (and other isms) has is yet to be determined, but the first step to change is awareness.
My final evaluation is with myself. Although microaggression is not a new term for me, as a person who is white, I need to re-remember this concept more frequently. Coming home from this conference, I re-evaluated my blog writing with a new lens. I did not find any offensive or negating verbiage in my content. This does not mean there is not any to be found. It means I am unconscious to some of the microaggressions I exhibit. Unconsciousness is an easy state to fall back on when I am in the majority. I am not confronted daily on negative characteristics my “whiteness” brings to the world. As I continue to write on my blog, create curricula online, or post comments on social media, there is a pressing responsibility. Vigilance of my microaggressions is as important to me as my confrontation of other’s microaggressions. This is an instance of “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Sue, D.W., Capodilupo, C., Torino, G., Bucceri, A., Holder, A., Nadal, K., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life. American Psychologist, 62 (4), 271-286.
Ellen M. Belluomini, LCSW, received her MSW from the University of Illinois, Jane Addams School of Social Work and is currently a doctoral student at Walden University. She is an educator at National Louis University and Harper College. She has developed online and blended curricula with an emphasis on integrating technology into human services practice. She writes a blog “Bridging the Digital Divide in Social Work Practice” to increase awareness about technology’s uses. She presents and consults on various issues related to social services. Her clinical work has been in private practice, management of nonprofit agencies, and programming for vulnerable populations.