November 13, 2016
When I showed up for my Wednesday evening communications class, the mood was miserable. Donald Trump’s victory at the polls was just hours old. Everyone was angry and scared.
Most of these students are people of color, with many from immigrant families. What kind of America is this, where it’s suddenly okay to be racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-everything?
Their fear is real. But so is my answer.
I told them that storytellers have the juice to trump Donald Trump. Storytelling builds confidence, creativity and community. Storytelling begins by examining our lives. And for many of us, especially right now, the stories begin with exploring microaggressions.
When I first mentioned this word at the start of the semester, my students faces went blank. But once I explained its meaning, their whole beings lit up with instant understanding. They knew exactly what I was talking about because they hold the pain in every cell of their bodies.
Microaggressions are those annoying little insults that we hardly notice or bother with. Yet, we carry them like an infection that saps our energy.
Why do people think they can randomly ask us things like: Where are you from? No, where are you really from? Can I touch your hair? Why don’t you speak Spanish?
We also hear things like: You don’t sound Black. You speak such good English. You’re so gay!
When these comments pop up, we might pause a second and wonder. Hmmm, did I really hear that? Did something just happen? Should I respond, or not? Then, we think we’re being oversensitive and brush the feelings away.
But in my communications class, which is all about public speaking, we talk through stuff that bothers us. The results of our storytelling are always spectacular.
I recently shared our process at a conference for public school teachers and other support professionals. Here we are, at the Oct. 13 conference for GradNation, a national program committed to raising high school graduation rates throughout the U.S. The event was hosted at Rutgers University-Camden by Center for Supportive Schools.
Check out the signs that everyone’s holding. The conference attendees reacted just like my students when I hold these things up in class. The signs stir up memories go back to childhood hurts.
For this particular workshop session, I made signs in three different colors. Black lettering signified microaggressions inflicted by strangers. Blue was for comments from family and community.
As for the red signs, they expressed the cry of both our inner child and our adult selves. These signs speak to the everlasting longing for what we’ve always wanted since we were little: acceptance, safety and unconditional love.
When I have a whole semester with a group of storytellers, they churn through the most remarkable tales. They let loose with stories about broken hearts, family deaths and illnesses, and exhausting jobs. They talk about depression, domestic violence and even rape. There are immigration struggles and financial issues.
Of course, we also trade laughs and wisdom about everything from a recipe for outrageous coconut cookies to tips on parallel parking and how to make better LinkedIn profiles.
Most important of all, the storytelling overcomes the sense of not-good-enough-because-I’m-different. Microaggressions feed our unworthiness. Storytelling shows us who we really are. We need to trust our stories and ourselves in #TrumpAmerica. Let’s start talking now!
For more on microaggressions, check out:
And what about you? Do any of the microaggression signs in the photos trigger memories, stories or reflections?