It’s the little things—calling a tan crayon “skin color,” a makeup brand’s lack of dark shades in their products and asking a Black person “Can I touch your hair?” Microaggressions come in many forms, whether intentional or not. For this UM student, it was a professor’s comment in her art history class.
We were staring at a photo of the sculpture of Queen Tiye. As the professor droned on about the details, I stared. It was beautiful. And her skin! It was a deep brown tone.
“The chemicals used to paint the sculpture probably made it get darker over time.” He said, casually.
What? I remember sitting there in shock, processing what he said. I darted my eyes over to the two other Black students in my class, wondering if they had heard what he just implied about Queen Tiye’s rich skin tone.
How could it have gotten darker over time? Was he saying that because it looked like an African person?
It sounded like he was trying to say, “I know what you’re thinking. You probably think this looks like an African person. Well it’s not. No way we could be studying anything Africans did because Africans never accomplished anything great, and I want to remind you of that by saying that this sculpture which looks just like a black woman is in fact not a black woman.”
Back then, I was not confrontational. And I wasn’t going to argue with the professor. I had other things to worry about, like graduation. But it still bothered me.
Later, we studied the Minoans, the predecessors to Ancient Greece and Rome.
We would be shown lily white statues of people, and the professor never mentioned that the paint probably got lighter over time.
I mean, if you can make an unsubstantiated claim that paint gets darker over time, why not the reverse? Don’t things usually fade over time? Wouldn’t that make more sense, be more plausible?
White supremacy is not plausible. It’s built upon lies. It was created to justify imperialism, the genocide of a race, the taking and selling of another.
He also mentioned how the Ancient Greeks said in their texts that they learned a lot of their culture from the Egyptians. Ah, I see. Another reason why the Ancient Egyptians couldn’t possibly be black.
It took me a long time write this, largely because I did not want to relive the experience and all the nasty feelings that came with it—shock, disappointment, hurt, powerlessness, anger.
As students of color in PWIs (predominantly white institutions), we have to deal with covert racism. That is the experience of being black in America. Going forward, let’s change that.
I don’t care about identifying my professor. I don’t care about him losing his job. Rather, I want to educate him and people like him. I want to prompt them to examine their biases and change the way they think.
America and the University of Miami can and need to do better in addressing their history and current instances of racism.
Tearing down statues is a nice gesture, but won’t change the mentality of white supremacy. It’s passed down, consciously and subconsciously, to everybody of all colors.
And no, I do not hate all white people. The discussion of white supremacy is not an attack on all white people. It is a phrase to call attention to the way society has favored white people for centuries.
WHAT YOU DIDN’T LEARN
Here are some pieces of Black history American educators probably left out of your AP textbooks.
- Katherine Johnson was a mathematician for NASA whose work was critical to sending astronauts into orbit and landing a man on the moon.
- During World War II, historically Black universities and colleges were a place of refuge for persecuted Jews seeking asylum from Nazi Germany.
- The idea for vaccination was introduced from the African tradition of inoculation by an enslaved person named Onesimus.
- Known as Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street,” the district of Greenwood was a self-reliant and highly affluent black community in the early 1900s.
- Bessie Coleman was the first African American, and first Native American woman, to pilot an airplane.
words_AA. design & illustration_olivia ginsberg.
This article was published in Distraction’s fall 2020 print issue.