When helping hurts.

Someone can have the best of intentions and yet cause devastation to another human being. As a black woman raised in Maine, I can attest to this. More harm has been done to me by kind white people, who don't think that they're racist, than blatantly racist folks. These kind people deny my lived experiences as a person of color and minimize the pain that I've felt as a result of racism. I've been called a nigger before and it sucks. But friends, it's the micro aggressions that chip away at my soul and leave me feeling unworthy of all that I have and will accomplish.

You may be wondering what a micro aggression is. A micro aggression is: "a term used for commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental slights, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups." (Thank you wikipedia!) Micro aggressions are the questions from strangers like "where are you from?" or "what is your background"; "have you been to this side of town before?", "can I touch your hair?". They are comments like "wow, you are so articulate" or "your skin is so beautiful", "of course you're good at math, you're Asian."

A micro aggression is the underlying assumption that you're an exception to the rule. It's the assumption that you don't belong. It's the insinuation that you are naturally good at certain things (black people are inherently better athletes and thus don't need to work as hard as others). It's the assumption that a person of color has had a rough life and living in an affluent community is a "come up". It's the objectification that comes with being treated like an exotic fruit. Micro aggressions do not allow people of color to relax. We are constantly made to feel like we don't belong in certain spaces so, even if we arrive in them, we don't feel safe or accepted. For me this is like a hammer and chisel slowly chipping away at my soul.

Many well meaning white people say and do things that diminish the dignity, humanity and

spirit of marginalized people. I don't think this is malicious, but that's really not the point. Why should people of color have to deal with racism in the form of micro aggressions simply because some white people choose not to know better?! Telling people of color not to take it so seriously is not helpful or at all fair. We're talking about someone's worth and value constantly being denied. No one, no matter how resilient they are, can be completely immune to such treatment, nor should they be asked to be.

Again, I don't think that the majority of white people who commit micro aggressions are malicious. Instead, I believe that it's because white people are born into a world that places them as an authority and the standard by which everything is measured. Never mind that all social and political systems were created with the advancement of white people in mind. So, it's only natural that white people question the validity of groups that don't fit the white mold and worse, feel entitled to say and do what they deem is best for other people. This is the "white savior" complex. This is when helping hurts.

The "white savior" complex is supporting marginalized people while simultaneously committing micro aggressions against them. It's propping yourself up for how you're helping and doing so at the expense of those you aim to serve. An example would be denying the work, effort and/or vulnerability of the person/people and taking credit since you propped them up. It's changing the language addressing DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, justice) work that was created by marginalized people, to make it more comfortable for cis white people. The "white savior" complex essentially says "I know better than you how to help you", instead of asking "how can I help?" A common example is that people of color are asked to consult in the background (often unpaid) and then the white leader takes the credit for all of the supposed work being done. Gotta love a good report out from white people on all the DEIJ work being done that doesn't actually include the voice of the people they're aiming to serve...

Now here's the interesting part for me: I was raised by white people and taught to see the world through the lens of white people. I was raised in a town that was, still is, predominantly white, and so, just about everyone I encountered on a daily basis was white. And every day I had to deal with micro aggressions from people who cared about me. Talk about confusing and at the worst, demoralizing. I didn't even know what micro aggressions were, I just knew that it felt icky to be asked to rap or dance because it was assumed I could. I then felt an immense pressure to know all of the current songs and dances. This is a modern day minstrel show. Black people are constantly being seen and valued for how they can entertain white people. This is why so many people of color are in sports, singing, comedy and dancing. Not because people of color are born more talented, but because this is one of the only arenas that black people have been allowed into since we arrived as slaves. We aren't valued for our minds, we're valued for our bodies and what they can do for white people.

Now if you're thinking: "I don't see color" or "I'm color blind", I love you and no. This is one of the most damaging perspectives that a white person can have. This mindset denies the lived experiences of people of color and also says "I don't want to take the time to understand, so I'm just going to be kind and generous." Then the cycle of "innocent" micro aggressions continues and marginalized people are left feeling unseen, unheard, unsupported and unsafe. I know that this isn't what most people want for anyone.

Anyways friends, I strayed from my usual wellness topics because I've hit a wall with micro aggression exhaustion. Sometimes it's just too much. I feel like Tom Hanks stranded on an island talking to my volleyball. It's lonely when you're committed to social change, much as it's lonely when you're committed to becoming the best version of yourself. I'm over here trying to do both, FML. But, if you know your why then you can always find the strength to persevere. My why is making sure that the kids of color in my community (including my own) are being seen, heard, supported, and made to feel safe. My hope is that you will feel motivated to do the same and practice some of that self awareness that I'm always preaching. Ask yourself, "does my helping hurt?", and "who is the helping for, me or them?" Tip: if you haven't ever asked "how can i help?" or you're constantly seeking praise for how you're helping, that's about you.

I never want to discourage people from helping but I want to offer more loving, respectful ways for doing so. This DEIJ work is hard. But for marginalized folks this is our lives. We want help, but we wish it didn't have to hurt so damn much.

As always, thank you for reading!


There's a song for that: "Black Man", Stevie Wonder.

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