Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Non-Violent Revolution through Symbology to Subvert Microaggressions

The Non-Violent Revolution through Symbology to Subvert Microaggressions

The neo-revolution is happening subversively, in the streets, on the Internet, in resource centers. “The Revolution will not be televised.” said Gill Scott-Heron, the godfather of Hip-Hop, knew where the revolution would be coming from. He didn’t foresee the internet and its ability to be a reflection in the mirror of the minds and the soul of the individual as they pour out on social networks and media syndications. My research methodology was once the card catalogs and the library; now it is tumblr and both result creditably. It is the social media where the revolution is happening. The face of tumblr, facebook and other social networks is being adopted by the outcasts to assert their place in society. This is empowering Others to do the same. This is the idea behind the visibility project. By reflecting on the cultural oppressiveness of beauty standards and to reclaim the use of imagery to redefine the cultural norm of beauty, I hope to help create a safer space with less racism.

I chose to volunteer at the Queer Resource Center (QRC) because I wanted to further explore the volunteer work I had already been engaging in there. The conflict I chose was racism and recreating the image of the QRC to reflect the new staff’s anti-racist ideology. My project was to volunteer to do research, print, and cover the walls of the QRC with imagery of queer people of color, a visual symbol of the center's new ideology. The idea for this project came from my new understanding of how symbolism and imagery affect our beauty standards and how visual representations of yourself in spaces help people feel more welcome in a space. The other hope is that it will increase conversations. The visual aides which includes words that explain language and other ally tools have also helped increase dialog around language and safer space. This paper is on why I choose this methodology as well as the impact of these images as well as the general change in the QRC over the year.

One of the first things I pushed for was a safer space policy. So we have a policy, that as a staff person, we must interrupt any oppressive language. We also, as staff, are dedicated to Non-Violent Communications as well as positive affirmations. The group we call the DeskCore (the main volunteers) has also picked up on this. Growing exponentially after I started working with the volunteer coordinator to allow for those volunteers to have more responsibility and also more one on one mentor-ship around anti-oppression. This has created a good foundation for this more sleeper effect propaganda.

Frst I will talk about the visibility campaign and the redefining beauty project. I will also be defining some new concepts that I have created in response to microagressions and relating those back to both the visibility campaign and the mentorship campaign. And tie these concepts into Galtung's theories on Cultural Violence and Nair's theories on emotions and conflict.

Here at the end of my research I re-found the term microagressions. Terminology that although I had seen before but hadn't been able to connect in the same way. Microagressions are harder to define because they are erasured at the base level. Psychology Today states: “While people of color may feel insulted, they are often uncertain why, and perpetrators are unaware that anything has happened and are not aware they have been offensive. For people of color, they are caught in a Catch-22. If they question the perpetrator... denials are likely to follow.” (Wing Sue 2010)
Derald Wing Sue explains microaggressions as the daily common experiences of aggression of subtle bigotry which remain invisible and are significantly more harmful than overt bigotry. He goes on to explain that microaggressions create anger, frustration, and poor self-esteem. Wikipedia's article on microaggression states:

“These are subtle, stunning, often automatic, and non-verbal exchanges which are ‘put-downs’ of blacks by offenders”.... People have expressed several ways in which they feel harmed when they receive racial microaggressions. For example, people may feel demeaned by implied messages such as, 'You do not belong,' 'You are abnormal,' 'You are intellectually inferior,; 'You cannot be trusted,' and 'You are all the same.' Recipients of these messages have also reported feeling other negative consequences, including powerlessness, invisibility, pressure to comply, loss of integrity, and pressure to represent one’s group.” (Wing Sue 2010)
Basically microagressions are the acts which cause erasure. It can be seen in subtle snubs or dismissive looks, gestures, and tones. “Microinequities is used to describe the pattern of being overlooked, underrespected, and devalued because of one’s race or gender. “ (Wing Sue 2010)

Psychology Today defines microassaults as “conscious and intentional discriminatory actions: using racial epithets, displaying White supremacist symbols - swastikas, or preventing one's son or daughter from dating outside of their race.” (Wing Sue 2010) In response I have coined 'microdefense' as conscious and intentional use of symbology to promote egalitarianism. Displaying identity based symbology that represents empowerment. Consciously be open to dating outside your race or moreover to be actively looking for friendships/relationships that are outside of your race. This being what most of this project is focused on.

Psychology Today goes on to define microinsults as “verbal, nonverbal, and environmental communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity that demean a person's racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a co-worker of color how he/she got his/her job, implying he/she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system.” (Wing Sue 2010) And I coined: 'microcompliments' as verbal, nonverbal and environmental communications that subtly convey acceptance as well as normalize and affirm identity. Instead you could affirm how excited you are to be working with a new co-worker as you know they must be an excellent choice for the job.

Lastly Psychology Today defines microinvalidations as “communications that subtly exclude negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, White people often ask Latinos where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land.” And my final term is 'microvalidations' which I define as communication that subtly validates, encourages, empowers the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For example, you could ask a Latino to tell you their story and if they are from Latin America or the states that would have a huge impact on their identity and part of their story.

Microaggressions are a form of transactional oppression. “Transactional: Everyday Behaviors that occur between and among us- choice of words, body postures, eye contact, and so on -communicate and negotiate power.” (Schrock-Shenk 2000) They are also contractual “sets of agreements, tactics or explicit, create environments in which power is distributed in particular ways.” (Schrock-Shenk 2000) But the concept of beauty is a structural oppression. “both face to face transactions and group situations exist in the context of greater social structures, which define as underlying set of power relations.” (Schrock-Shenk 2000) Galtung looks at 'cultural violence' as the ideology which legitimizes other forms of violence such as direct and structural violence. “One way cultural violence works is by changing the moral color of an act from red/wrong to green/right or at least to yellow/acceptable...” (Gultung 1990)

An example of this moral ambiguity is a study that was recently published in Psychiatry Today is a great example entitled; 'Why Black Women Are Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women', psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa from the London School of Economics (LSE) concluded that he had found that African American women were 'objectively' less attractive than European American, Asian American, and Native American women....Many people's responses were emotionally charged, and rightly so. (Kaufman 2011)

What makes the study most interesting to me is the absolute lack of appropriate methodology to analyze the data. As Kaufman goes on to say “academic freedom does not entail the right (1) to misinterpret data and (2) to ignore empirical findings that go against stated claims... (and) it must be noted that with so many variables, there are bound to be many statistically significant results in the data set simply due to chance.” (Kaufman 2011)

This ties into what Galtung says about how cultural violence changes the moral color of an act or at least attempts to. Kanazawa was attempting to rationalize racism and in doing so he was engaging in horizontal oppression. Galtung explains this as “combined direct an structural violence, with one group treating another group so badly that they feel a need for justification and eagerly accept any cultural rationale handed to them.” (Galtung 295) He also explains top dogs and under dogs, basically as it sounds. In our example racist beauty standards cause women who look more white to have more access to resources (men) and women with darker skin to be more disadvantaged and exploited. Kanazawa was rationalizing this by stating that black women were innately less attractive. Another way of saying this is 'chooseness' which can only exist when there is:

“Self and Other... A steep gradient is then constructed, inflating, even exalting, the value of Self: deflating, even debasing, the value of Other. At that point, structural violence can start operating....When the Other is not only dehumanized but has been successfully converted into an 'it', deprived of humanhood, the stage is set for any type of direct violence, which is then blamed on the victim.” (Galtung 298)

This is all the structure that lies underneath our conceptualization of beauty standards. The question that I posed for myself is what can I do to change this? I knew it was important for people to see visual representation of themselves in order to feel safe in spaces. Upon hang the images I found that since that foundational work had already happened most folks just got it and loved it. They asked for more. It was an “emotional contagion... how the social context may induce or shape the arousal of emotions through conscious and unconscious processing.” (Nair 366) The director has agreed to allot funds for professional prints to be made up over the summer for next year. One women of color came in and said “Oh, I love it, who did this?” She then turned around and saw me and said “it was you wasn't it? Of course it was.” Before I could even open my mouth. I think the project has been a great success.

This to me is an example of what I am coining as a microdefense. By setting the beauty standard at the QRC as one that validates the beauty of people of color, it creates a space that is more welcoming to people of color. This is also a microvalidation of their identity and a microcompliment of their beauty. It acts as an antithesis to the hegemonic standards of white culture. This symbolism in addition to the other structural empowerment systems we are creating at the QRC has already created a space which is visibly more diverse. I believe introducing some of the rhetoric I have learned over the period of this course will only increase our use of microvalidations and microcompliments within the space as well as structurally doing more microdefense work. Although the conflict of the QRC not being a safe space for people of color and therefore creating an resource access issue for queer people of color is not solved completely I believe this project was a step in the right direction.


Galtung, Johan. (1990). Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research vol 27, no. 3, pp. 291-305

Kaufman, Scott Barry. (May 21, 2011) Black Women Are Not (Rated) Less Attractive! Our Independent Analysis of the Add Health Dataset. Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201105/black-women-are-not-rated-less-attractive-our-independent-analysis-the-a

Microagression [web log post]. (2011, May 29). Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microaggression

Nair, Nisha. (2008). Towards understanding the role of emotions in conflict: a review and future directions. Institutional Journal of Conflict Management, vol 19, no 4, pp. 359-381

Schrock-Shenk, Carolyn. (2000). Power and Conflict. Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual. Akron, Pa: Menonite Concilia Service, pp 78-83

Wing Sue, Derald, Ph.D., and Rivera, David, M.S. (October 5, 2010.) Microaggressions in Everyday Life: A new view on racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201010/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life

Wing Sue, Derald. (March 2010) Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation. Preface. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.

Wing Sue, Derald. (March 2010) Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation. Racial/Ethnic Microagressions and Racism. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.

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