Tag Archives: Micro-aggressions

‘Our Voices’ – Overcoming racial bias


From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“A friendship based on hard work and personal truth is worth the effort.” This story is not about racism, but about overcoming racial bias.

May 21, 2021

White woman
Age 60
Benicia resident for 8 years

Like most white people, in my age group, racism was an integral part of my childhood. I lived in the Midwest with my grandparents. My grandmother who, although never used disparaging language in front of me, clearly felt superior to people of other races and cultures. Grandma occasionally made negative comments about the Black family across the street or the Catholic family on the corner but only very quietly so she couldn’t be overheard. Our Black housekeeper, whom I adored, was “good enough” to watch over me when they went out of town, but not good enough to invite to dinner or a party. And when I asked my grandmother why our housekeeper was never included in family events when she was definitely part of our family, she dismissed my question with, “It’s just not done that way.”

When I moved in with my mother at age 7, everything changed. We lived in an integrated apartment complex far away from my grandparents’ community– and it was great! There were lots of children from all backgrounds, and we all played together. The families watched out for one another. In hindsight, my social life suddenly became uncomplicated and unhindered. I didn’t have to worry about what Grandma or anyone else thought about my friends. My best friend was a Black girl, and she and I did everything together for the three years I lived there – sleepovers, family dinners, trips to the zoo, etc. My mother socialized with wide variety of people and never discouraged me from making friends with whomever I chose. It was a very different experience than my earlier years. I felt culturally liberated.

I tried to live my life using the model I had learned from my mother. Then, in 2002 while attending graduate school, I had a life changing experience involving racial relations. I was in an educational psychology program and part of a cohort of about 60 individuals. We were carefully screened for our potential to be change agents within a school system. The program was very racially and socially integrated. Much of the curriculum was focused on racial justice, cultural awareness and sensitivity, and appropriate interpersonal interaction. The class was divided into two groups, and I took most or all of my classes with the same 30 people. We were further divided into two groups for our counseling internship. This smaller group of fifteen grad students met twice a week to discuss personal challenges in our fieldwork and our lives.

One of the Black women in my group fascinated me. She was frequently rushing into class at the last moment or shortly after class began. She seemed scattered and harried. But no sooner did the professor ask the class a question, she offer a response with a calmness and a wisdom that was completely different than the manner in which she had arrived to class. Clearly, this woman was possessed with a deep intelligence and the ability to focus her intent without pausing for breath. She was also one of the fifteen in my internship class. Unlike in the others in the classes, she didn’t share much. She seemed uncomfortable talking about her personal life. Instead, she would sit quietly, curled up in one of the armchairs, only speaking when prompted, and then as little as possible. I couldn’t wait to get to know her.

I finally had my chance when we were alone in an elevator on our way to class one day. It happened to be my birthday and someone had given me flowers. She commented on them, and I shared the reason I had them. “Oh – It’s my son’s birthday, too.” Okay, I thought, she’s a mother. We have that in common. “How old is he?” I asked. She told me, and I asked if she had other children. She told me she had two boys, the other one younger. I told her I had a son, too, and gave his age. And then I asked her if she was a single mom. The tentative friendliness she had extended at my encouragement immediately evaporated. I didn’t quite understand why, but I was sensitive enough to realize she had a lot of feelings around her marital status. I didn’t want to pry, so we finished our ride in silence.

About two weeks later, the students in my internship class were discussing racially based micro-aggressions, when the woman I was wanting to meet uncharacteristically spoke up. She said that someone in the cohort had used a micro-aggression against her. Without revealing any identities, she shared the story of being in the elevator with a white woman, ending with the white woman’s “assumption” that all Black mothers are unmarried. There was a long, shocked silence in the room. I took a deep breath and drummed up my courage. “That was me. And I’m sorry you feel upset. Help me understand what happened.”

She was angry – really angry. She saw this as a typical attack against the integrity of Black women from a white person who was coming from a place of superiority. She passionately argued her point while I tried to explain where I was coming from. The class sat there witnessing this exchange in silence. I felt the discomfort growing as the conversation continued for the better part of 10 to 15 minutes. I finally blurted out, “Any woman can be a single mother. I have been a single mother. And I’m now going through a rough patch in my second marriage which may well put me there again.” I have to add that this was very hard for me to admit at that point in time. I continued, “I noticed that you regularly arrive to class like you have way too much on your plate. It just struck me that you being single was a possibility, once I learned that you are a mother, too.” I paused, “I just wanted to get to know you!” The other woman looked stunned, and a silence fell between us.

The professor took this momentary break as a good time to end the discussion. “We can talk more about this next time,” he said as he dismissed the class. Meanwhile, I was trying to maintain my equanimity. I fervently hope the discussion wouldn’t have to be continued at all. I felt depleted, troubled, and embarrassed all at once. I concentrated on gathering my things in preparation to go home. As I turned around, my contender was standing there. “I’m so sorry…” I started to say, but was cut short as she gathered me into one of the biggest hugs I have ever experienced.

Nearly 20 years later, this woman and I are still close friends. We’ve travelled together, celebrated together, laughed till we peed our pants, and held each other while we cried. She was there for me when I did eventually go through a second divorce. My son took her boys under his wing. We now live several states apart, and I miss her. And now that pandemic related travel warnings have been lifted, I need to visit her – or her me.

I wanted to share this story because it contains some very valuable points about getting to know others outside of your regular social group.

● My white perspective may not be the same as someone from another culture or ethnic group.
● Although I didn’t intend my question to be a micro or any kind of aggression, it was perceived that way.
● The other woman’s experiences of racism deeply colored her ability to accept me until we had the opportunity to hash it out.
● One is never finished learning, no matter how much they think they know about other groups of people.

And although my experience (and probably my friend’s as well) was uncomfortable and challenging, we got through it, and it was worth it. I am profoundly grateful that my friend had the courage to express what she felt. And even though her anger frightened me, I stayed with it, and I learned from her side of the story. So did the rest of the class. I am proud of myself that I had the strength and the tenacity to really listen without judgment, without letting emotion get in the way; to be authentic; and not to shift the compassion of our witnesses to me by breaking down and crying. This is an example of how to bridge the gap despite ethnic and cultural barriers.

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at

‘Our Voices’ – A “positive note” following racial and traumatic incidents at Benicia schools over the years


From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“My son loved school and learning. That is until he felt racially targeted and unprotected by the staff and administration.”

April 11, 2021

Black woman
Age – late 30s
Benicia resident for 10 years

My husband and I moved to Benicia from Vallejo because of the schools. It wasn’t about safety. We lived in a decent Vallejo neighborhood, and we were locals. I had attended school there myself, and had a reasonably good education and experience. The schools in Vallejo are integrated, and I always felt safe and connected. However, the schools in Benicia offered more resources for the classrooms, and more co-curricular and extra curricular activities. There were field trips and enrichment opportunities available in the Benicia schools that Vallejo couldn’t offer. And so we moved here.

My son started his school career in Benicia. He would come home every day practically bursting with the new things he learned. He loved to read, explore, calculate, analyze and memorize. He brought his joy of learning into everything we did. He woke up excited every morning, eager to go to school and ready to learn. It was a dream come true for any parent, and I was especially proud.

Then when he got to middle school something changed. It started with a juvenile verbal challenge between my son and another boy, who happened to be white. At first the argument was typical of 7th grade boys trying to show off. As it got more heated, the other boy pulled out the racial derogatives. He called my son the “N” word and a “black gorilla.” My son reciprocated with some angry words of his own, but did not resort to racially based insults. The verbal bashing was eventually interrupted by staff, and the boys were brought to the Vice Principal’s office.

The other boy’s mother and I were summoned to the office for a “chat.” I sat there with the woman, the counselor and the vice principal, listening to the boys retell their story. When it became clear that the other child had used racial slurs, his mother became indignant. She vehemently argued that her son couldn’t help himself. She claimed he had socialization issues that were the underlying cause of his behavior. Her argument became so passionate and her demeanor so aggressive that the staff members backed down. She eventually left the room in a huff with her son. My son received detention. Hers did not. It was the first time that my son did not feel protected or valued by the administration.

After that, things started to cascade. My son earned the reputation of being a goofball, and small things began to appear on his disciplinary record, things like, “throwing Cheetos,” “horseplay,” and “kicking someone’s backpack.” Although individually, these things are relatively insignificant, especially since they were done while joking around with his friends, each incident added demerits to my son’s record and his reputation grew. His attitude towards school began to change. He no longer looked forward to going, and his academics began to be affected.

There were more meetings with school officials. Sometimes, the school resource officer was asked to attend. Each time, my son was treated with a dismissive attitude by school authorities. Eventually, he was required to attend a SARB (School Attendance Review Board) meeting for his disciplinary issues. This was presided over by a judge. The judge looked over my son’s school record and kicked it out with a reprimand to the school for wasting his time. It was a small reprieve.

The final blow came when my son was overheard by a substitute teacher teasing his friend (a Black girl) about her weave, which is a hairstyle used frequently in Black culture. The middle aged white woman, misunderstanding his intent, sent my son to the office for “sexual harassment.” To add to the insult, the substitute confided her version of what happened to a white male teacher in his 30s, who, knowing about my son’s growing reputation, took it upon himself to run an informal investigation. He asked several girls whether they had experienced sexually charged or harassing comments from my son. I learned this from the teacher in question, and it added to my son’s feelings of betrayal and marginalization. Although the sexual harassment accusation was unfounded, it still ended up on his disciplinary record without our knowledge.

It was at this point that my husband and I made the difficult decision to pull our son out of Benicia Middle School. We settled on a local private school, but my son’s discipline record was called into question before he was admitted, particularly the part about his involvement in sexual harassment. I had to go back to Benicia Middle School to question the reason this unfounded incident was on his record and request a correction. I also needed a letter, clearing my son of this accusation so that he could move on. The Vice principal apologized, made the correction on the school records, and wrote a letter for me; but the damage was already done.

When my son started high school, we decided to give the Benicia schools another try. For a while, everything went smoothly. And then an incident occurred with another white woman substitute in English class. The class was reading “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which you may know contains some racially disparaging scenes. The teacher was having the students read passages aloud in preparation for discussion. When it came to reading the “N” word, several students, both white and Black, voiced that they were uncomfortable verbalizing this word when the use was clearly meant to dehumanize a Black character. At first the substitute insisted, but when met with continued student resistance, she relented, saying they could replace the unpalatable word with another word, such as “dog.” This upset my son and he spoke up – very passionately, I might add. When he discovered it useless to argue his point more, he took a walk so he could cool off. Meanwhile, the teacher called the office and claimed my son took an aggressive stance with her, and she felt uncomfortable with him being there. Upon returning to class my son was quickly sent to the office. When the administration looked into the incident, they concluded that he was not threatening in any way, but thought it would be best for him to remain in the office for the days she continued to substitute. Even though her claims were unsubstantiated, she refused to admit that she had offered the word “dog” as a replacement for the “N” word, despite the testimonies of several students. My thoughts were, “Here we are again.”

The pandemic called an end to the situation. My son did not have to attend school in person for the rest of his freshman or his sophomore year to date. And he has opted not to return for the remainder of this year. We support him. My son’s decision is based, not on the health threat of Covid 19, but on the lack of support he feels from the school administration.

These are only a few of the racial and traumatic incidents that have occurred at the schools over the years. Most have been undocumented without any repercussion to the offending parties. My child, like many others, has been left to filter, process, and internalize his pain and emotional distress, with little to no help from the schools.

I am saddened by and disappointed in the Benicia School District. What started as a wonderful opportunity to inspire and maximize my son’s academic potential was overshadowed by a continued lack of support and belief in my son’s capabilities. He is now another disillusioned student. I know my son is a passionate and intelligent young man, but instead of inspiring and guiding him towards leadership, the system has demonstrated time and again that his Black male passion must be extinguished. I feel like I have sent my child into a hostile environment for the sake of his education. I wanted to send him into a place that would give him the same nurturing guidance as we give in our home but I have been proven wrong time and again. His emotional and psychological distress breaks my heart. And I know I am not alone in these concerns. Many Benicia families of color have similar experiences.

I have noticed the Benicia District and schools taking steps to address the racial inequity and it gives me hope. Children should leave the educational system full of knowledge and eagerness to learn more. They should not leave needing to heal from psychological scars caused by race-based traumatic stress.

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at