The first time I heard the term “microaggression”, I rolled my eyes.
The word felt like a watered-down way to talk about racism without making people too uncomfortable.
After reading the definition of microaggression, another part of me felt relieved. Finally, there was a name for all the subtle racist exchanges I’ve witnessed and experienced.
Social psychologists define microaggression as:
“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.”
The juxtaposition of micro and aggression reminds us that no matter how small or unintended the action or words are, they have an impact. And that impact is usually painful.
As a woman of color, I know the constant stream of microaggressions many people in our communities are subjected to.
As I approach the final semester of my psychotherapy training, I’m more aware of how these subtle attacks affect our mind, body, heart and spirit.
An experience from my first night in my college dorm comes to mind.
I’m sitting in one of the common rooms, getting to know my new peers, when someone makes a joke about Africans riding around on zebras and hunting lions. Everyone laughs.
I don’t. Instead I say: I’m African. I grew up in Nigeria.
Someone replies: You don’t look African. You don’t even have a Jheri curl.
Even though it happened over 20 years ago, I still remember the thoughts that came up:
Did that just happen?
Am I overreacting?
Did I provoke them with something I said or did?
Then my body reacted:
My throat felt dry.
My voice was shaky and tentative.
My hands trembled.
Then the feelings:
Then I lost my connection with Spirit.
I felt alone.
Thought no one had my back.
I didn’t trust I was on my right path.
The impact of that incident stayed with me throughout my four years at college. I constantly felt like I didn’t belong and that I wasn’t good enough.
If I had a practice of true self-care I know my experience in college would have been different.
Sure I practiced self-care. I exercised. Got my nails done every once in a while. Took a dance class for fun. But it was a superficial self-care. Unconsciously, it was driven by a need to make myself “better”.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation. And that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde’s quote about self-care was in my email signature for years. But it isn’t until recently that I’ve come to understand how radical and revolutionary true self-care can be.
When practiced with love and intention, self-care reconnects you to your personal power.
You become a compassionate witness of your mental, physical and emotional reactions to what’s happening to you when you feel attacked.
You’re able to honor your truth in the moment.
You can feel the impact of the microaggression thrown at you without losing your balance.
True self-care is a practice. And it’s at the core of what I support my clients with in their lives.
What does true self-care mean to you? Tell me in the comments below.
P.S. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can join us at REFRESH & RECONNECT, a retreat for women of color. Get more details here: http://bit.ly/1lrDyZH