Can I be real with you for a second, reader? I’m exhausted. I’ve gone straight past tired and landed on a weariness that settles into your bones, under your eyes, makes a home in your heart. It’s been a long semester and each day feels like a never-ending marathon that I’ve not prepared for. I am applying to graduate school for my doctorate in English, which has become an opportunity for me to welcome stress and the feeling of unworthiness into my life. The train’s still running.
Sometimes things build up and take up shop inside me and leave me breathless with sadness and exhaustion. If it weren’t under a microscope, it’d be impossible to see. These little sayings, certain behaviors—like debt, they accrue.
“Are you on your period?” This is the usual one. Most are familiar with this one, an implication that somehow menstruation has a massive impact on your mental faculties. Or it’s,“someone’s not feeling well,” or “someone’s had a bad day.” These small tweaks, and suddenly I am either too sick, or too angry to have an opinion of value.
“Be nice,” is another one I get all the time, especially since I occupy a position of power as Editor-in-Chief of The Knight News, a student run newspaper here at QC. Underneath that is the idea that I am aggressive, or unforgiving, or a “cruel” black woman. I work hard to be “nice,” and not ruffle any feathers or hurt anyone’s feelings to the point where I’m steamrolled into doing things or performing in a way unlike myself.
“Do you work here?” I could be wearing a garbage bag and still get asked this question by (usually white) people at whatever store I’m at for any period of time. The assumption of all people of color being around just to be a source of labor to the (often white) person that asks is annoying, exhausting, demeaning.
These are simple sayings that affect the tone of my entire day. I recently received an email from my advisor that said my writing for my application materials seemed “rushed,” despite the fact that I have been working on my writings over the course of a year under the guidance of people my senior.
Words are such tiny things that create immense feelings. These sentences are like little pebbles that are dropped on my back, and by the end of the week I’m keeled over from the weight of them.
So yeah, I’m exhausted. I hope you can imagine why.
These little pebbles, this debt, I’ve learned are called microaggressions. Every person of color knows them well, but may not know what they’re called. These tiny aggravations make for larger issues, a tiny reminder that we are not normal, that we are the Other in the equation of life. To be a person of color, to be black, is to always hold your breath and wish you could stop screaming inside.
Having a name for the pebbles helps, but I can’t say the awareness of what they are and what they’re doing to me make them any easier to deal with. To be honest, I’m sick of waiting for my humanity to be recognized. I am a person, with feelings bigger than the body I occupy. All I ask is for them to be treated with kindness, for the marathon to feel less like a marathon and more like a gentle sprint. I hope there comes a day where even the tiniest aggressions no longer exist. I’m still waiting for the day my humanity will be seen for every and all that it is, with no exceptions or commentaries or associations.
It’s a long shot, but I’ll hold out for however long it takes. Like Hughes said: “I, too, am America.”