While Danielle is only at the beginning of her social work career, she has already embarked upon an inspiring journey along with a number of her peers to encourage greater racial diversity and cultural competence at her school.
Your placement this year was at a victims’ crime unit within a hospital. What were your responsibilities as a social worker intern?
What was a typical day for you was like in this role?
Moving onto the area of racial microaggressions, you and a peer presented this past spring a workshop on this topic. Could you explain the term and give a few examples of how/when this occurs?
· An assault might look like a white woman clutching her purse or crossing the street when she sees a black man walking towards her.· An insult could be an Asian American being complimented on their good English.· An invalidation might be someone saying that they don’t see color.
What led you to take on racial microaggressions or racism as a cause and when did you start?
How do racial microaggressions affect people of color?
Racial Microaggressions have a cumulative affect. As many tend to occur in any given week, over time, people of color tend to become hyperaware of racism.
This can lead to physical and mental health concerns. Oftentimes it can lead to a sense of helplessness and rage. It also impacts the way that people of color interact with others.
Environmental microaggressions create hostile and threatening places which decrease the likelihood that people of color will stay there. For instance, a university with primary white students, faculty and administration will be a hostile place for a person of color.
Are there some things people of color may do to avoid getting hurt by racial microaggressions?
Not really. I would say that educating oneself on socialization helps to create an intellectual shield, but ultimately it still hurts.
Community organizing and finding safe spaces where one can talk about these indignities also can help to ease the emotional suffering. In the end, each occurrence still hurts and takes their individual toll though.
What are some steps that we can do to minimize our chances of making racial microaggressions?
Don’t rationalize or try to minimize what has transpired, because this diminishes the impact of the apology. Becoming educated will help and practicing humility will help even more.
Additionally, I think it is important to know that education alone will not help, especially for mental health practitioners. It is key that we take time to understand our own biases and that we force ourselves out of our comfort zones.
It is not easy to discuss race and especially to acknowledge one’s own privilege and racism. However, if it is not done, than all attempts at understanding will fail.
So I’d say that exploring your personal biases, engaging in activities and conversations that broaden your horizons and getting your education about different cultures both from professional sources AND people from the community you are trying to understand will help you to gain the necessary information to be more culturally competent and less likely to commit microaggressions.
Do other socially marginalized groups like women, the obese and LGBQTs also experience microaggressions?
Yes! There is additional research on gender and sexual orientation microaggressions. I have not heard much talk about size-ism but I’d venture to say that it happens.
Now that you have graduated, how do you feel about having finished school? And what are your hopes/plans in terms of next steps?
Graduating is bittersweet. I’ve been a student for most of my life so this is definitely a time of identity loss and change. I am excited to begin a new job in a mental health clinic for adults with persistent and severe mental illness.
I also am launching a consulting business where I will continue to provide training on matters of diversity, especially around race. I hope to continue to have these discussions and educate folks on how race and racism affect our society today. Eventually I plan to pursue a PhD in Social Justice Education and may find myself working in higher education.
I’ve often times dreamed of going back to my alma mater, Temple University, to help the school community and neighboring community to improve their relations. I think race has a lot to do with the poor relationship, as well as other factors.
Lastly, you had great success at securing a position within a only a couple of weeks after graduation in a tough job market. What advice would you offer your MSW cohorts looking for employment?
Utilize your network! I am employed because my old supervisor had a job opening. Yes, I have many awesome qualities, but when it boiled down to it, I knew the right person at the right time. People prefer to hire people they already know/have personal recommendations, instead of taking a wild chance.
The other thing that guided my short search was: Be realistic! As recent graduates, no matter your work history, we are at an entry level position in a field that is looking for experience. Definitely apply for things that interest you, but try to have a broad sense of interests.
I feel that once I get a few years of experience under my belt, I will have more say so over the exact place that I work. For now, it is easier to look for the ideal job while having the security of an income. Good luck!
Thanks so much, Danielle, for enlightening us about microaggressions and what we can do to start becoming more aware of our behaviors so as not to inadvertently offend others.
What questions and/or thoughts come to your mind following this interview?
Reference: (Sue, Derald Wing, 2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley, CA.