Undercover racism at Jones

The effects of microaggressions

In this heightened time of racial awareness, it has become more important than ever to look at the implication that race has and how those effects came to be. To gain a holistic view of race and the entanglement it has with a person’s position in their respective community, one must take into account the role that being a marginalized person plays in education, especially in an institution such as Jones.

The act of making a statement or an incident that can be regarded as an instance of indirect or unintentional discrimination against members of a racial or ethnic minority is defined as a microaggression. These obscure occurrences can be both verbal and nonverbal, with a majority of them being automatic and reoccurring responses. 

At Jones, the largest single race is the white student population coming in at 36.9%. With a great number of the teaching staff also being white,  it is understandable to a certain extent why racial empathy and sensitivity is lacking in daily classroom interactions between students and staff. 

Microaggressions often go unnoticed by the receiver because of the subtleness of the event, along with the tone that the perpetrator most likely used. The instance can leave the student with a feeling of something being wrong, but they are not quite able to verbalize why they feel that way. According to a study done by the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, “27  percent of the students of color reported feeling that their contributions in different learning contexts were minimized due to the way they spoke with an additional 25 percent reporting feeling that they were not taken seriously in class because of their race.” Although they are not always processed at that moment as inappropriate, microaggressions are still harmful. Over time, they can create a sense of imposter syndrome and inadequacy that affects the way a person views themself and their performance.

When sharing personal experiences in class, especially in relation to race, students should be made to feel comfortable and not fear being told that they are wrong in their interpretations just because the teacher themself does not relate. The instructor may mean to be helpful when giving the student feedback in class, but the action is often isolating for the student. This would be considered a microaggression. Even though the teacher did not have the intention to undermine the student’s contribution, their purpose does not negate the negative effects that event holds against the student. When students feel like their input is dismissed, they become more likely to recluse from class discussions, lowering their participation. 

Since it is difficult to describe to another person why the microaggression was offensive, they frequently go unreported, which in some ways encourages the poor behavior to continue. In the already rare occasion the student does speak out, they receive little to no validation that their concerns were heard and will be acted upon. When their complaints are ignored, it is discouraging to the students affected, making it seem as if their words and experiences do not matter to the school. The act of their complaints being ignored in itself is an additional microaggression.

With all arguments considered, the work that the Jones administration and community has done to better their awareness of the racial inequalities present in the school should not be ignored. Some teachers have tried to include more diversity with the works that they choose to explore in the classroom during ethnic specific months. Also, for the last year, teachers have had mandated meetings in hopes of building more social-emotional awareness. But more work can still be done to make the Jones community aware of how to interact with people of different ethnicities in an appropriate manner.

In addition to the systems that have already been put into place, students and staff alike need to work at removing their implicit biases along with the ideals that they have surrounding what the poc experience at Jones “should be.” This includes but is not limited to listening to the students when they tell administration what changes they would like to see. Change won’t happen in one night or even a single school year, but over the course of several years, similar problems should not exist at the same frequency.