The Wednesday Weigh-In: “What Weird Mix Are You?” and Other Awesomely Bad Microaggressions

We’ve written before about Microaggressions, a sweet blog that provides a platform to expose some of the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of ‘isms that invade our daily lives.

As Chloe explained earlier this year, the blog catalogs small expressions of inequality, from a parent who pointedly leaves newspaper articles about HIV lying around for her gay son to see to a white classmate claiming, on MLK Day no less, that she’s been discriminated against because she’s white.

I thought of the site this Memorial Day weekend when I was asked during a party by two white European women “What weird mix are you?” and felt like causing a scene. Instead, I smiled politely. “I’m half Russian- maybe we share some relatives.” She confusedly scoffed.

I’m also reminded of it when a friend of mine and I are constantly asked if we’re sisters when we’re out together. I am half black and half Russian, she is Mexican. Needless to say, we pretty much look nothing alike except for the fact that we are women of color. We generally reply that we are “sistas” and that seems to quell the questions.

Which brings me to the point of this post: a question for you all on this lovely first day of June!

What are some microaggressions you’ve witnessed or experienced, and how did they make you feel?

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Trinity

    As a gamer girl, I get a lot of bizarre microaggressions whenever I step out into the larger gaming world. My favorite was the time at a magic tournament when my opponent started exclaiming about how he’d never played against a girl before… to the guy next to him. He was somewhat confused when I played the entire match in silence.

    • Sam Lindsay-Levine

      The Magic subculture is so painfully gender unbalanced that it’s almost impossible to notice anything else when stepping into any large gathering. A woman I went to school with, Lauren Lee, is a much bigger Magic fanatic than I am, and has written about this some under her own name and as “Mulldrifting”.

      I really wish Wizards of the Coast would put some serious thought and effort into trying to balance the culture, over a few years.

  • nazza

    The friend who told me that, being bisexual, I would eventually choose one side or the other.

  • Chloe H.

    My mother, upon seeing my sister struggle with using a toaster oven for the first time: “The only thing you are good at is putting eyeliner on”. This was supposed to be a joke.

    My mother, when she found out about the Chinatown buses and how they’re inexpensive modes of travel: “What do we have to do to get on? This? **pulls her eyes out so they are narrow slits**” Also, apparently a joke.

    Community organizer, to me: “You’re way too young to work at this table… people won’t take you seriously.” I’m 23. I used to weigh 85 pounds. I never had an eating disorder but struggled with depression, which affected my weight. I am now at 105 and feel accomplished and healthy.

    It has been a long and interesting road recognizing the ways in which my very sweet, very sensitive, very kind, white, working-class mother can be racist and sexist (especially as I am active and more-than-vocal personally and professionally as a social justice feminist, and even more especially as I find the ways that I have internalized these commentaries).

  • Rachel

    As a receptionist, I get a lot of mini-annoyances. To me the worst is when I enforce the rules of the establishment and 35-40 year old students try to manipulate me into breaking the rules because they don’t like what I’m telling them.

  • Lani Shotlow

    A guy told me I was pretty for an Indian girl–I’m biracial, Mexican and African American. It is infuriating that in his mind beauty has racial boundaries.

  • Heather

    I’m not even sure where to start!

    While living in Nashville, a dear friend and I were out to dinner. We ended up talking with another patron whom we’d encountered a few times. When the conversation shifted to interracial dating, he quipped, “No, no way. I mean, why dumb down the white race?” My friend and I silently stared at each other, paid the check, and then left.” (We later heard that the person we were speaking with was in a head-on collision after he left the restaurant. He survived, barely. Karma much?)

    On my looks, last name and beliefs… “You’re not a Jew! Hahaha! What kind of last name is that anyway? Seriously, you’re about as Irish shiksa as they come. What do you mean you don’t want to participate the company-wide Easter egg hunt and raffle?! Come on, it doesn’t matter that you’re Jewish! If you win the raffle, you can give the basket to a poor, Christian kid.”

    Being a musician while female… I’ve had business cards slipped down my shirt and into my bra. I’ve been told to leave the tech stuff to the boys and just sing & look pretty. I’ve also been scolded on how to run my recording sessions because gee, don’t I know the boys prefer we run it this way?

    Sometimes, I speak up. Sometimes, I say nothing. I do the best I can in the moment, and sometimes, I just give up and make a cocktail.

  • Catherine

    1) The word “exotic” being used as a compliment for anything that isn’t blonde or white! Example: I like to color my hair frequently, and make it different colors. Whenever I’m lightening it, people (especially the hair stylists) tell me that it will look cute/pretty/summery/whatever. Any time I go darker, it’s always “exotic”! Qualifiers in general are very “microagression” to me.

    2) I’m going to be a teacher, and when I tell people my career plans they frequently respond, “Oh, that’s a great career for a woman!” Because, you know, I’ll have more chances to be at home with my kids than I would if I had a “real” job.

  • Amanda Avelar

    oh the funtimes I’ve had with this…
    My brother (older) and I are mixed raced and pretty obviously but he’s tall, dark, thin and with black curly hair and a prominent nose and I’m short, lighter skinned, chubby and with pointed features. I get the ” you must be white and something exotic right!?” and have been stopped a couple of times in the bloody grocery/ on the job and asked variations of ” what were your parents ethnicity wise? my (ethnicity) (family member) is having a baby with (ethnicity) (partner) and I want to know if their kids will be good looking/ “ethnic looking”. My experience is mostly “positive” aside from reactions to being part mexican and told “It’s okay honey, you don’t look it” Whereas my brother is outright accused of lying when asked about his ethnicity and told that he must be middle eastern/ only mexican.

    When asked what I plan on doing with myself once out of school I reply ” Serve my country via the USAF ” I get ” It’s such a waste , the only job you can get is secretarial and you don’t want to go in the dirt or anything for training” or the ” women don’t belong in the military *rant* ” It’s ridiculous, I come from a military family, have always been very patriotic and consider it an honor if they let me enlist. The best is when I tell them I hope to be in safety/ base police/ archives or int relations and get really fun ” not for delicate ladies” type answers or even better ” ha, but you look kinda middle eastern! no way!”
    Urgh, sorry for the rant but it is truly ridiculous.

  • aLynn

    I’ve experienced tons of concern trolling about my weight pretty much my whole life…about what I eat, how much I exercise, etc. As for how it makes me feel…at first I didn’t even understand it for what it was. I felt like the responsibility to “improve” was mine and I felt shamed. Now I get more pissed off and other time just very, very over it.

  • Jennifer

    Getting asked this question or some variation thereof: What nationality are you? If anyone asks me that question, I reply, “I am American,” which is true. I was born and raised in the United States and I am not a citizen of any other country. But 9 times out of 10, the person asking the question doesn’t “get” it and replies, “But you don’t look American!”

  • Amanda

    I (a white woman) was talking to one of my coworkers (also a white woman) about a Chilean actress (Cote de Pablo). My coworker referred to her as Argentinian, and I politely corrected her. She proceeded to tell me that there is no difference between people from “those countries” (presumably meaning countries in Central and/or South America). I tried to explain to her that there are a lot of cultural and even minor linguistic differences between the countries (comparing it to differences between the U.S. and Canada or even between different regions of the U.S.). She said no, that you could not tell any difference. I tried to explain to her that just because she personally can’t detect differences between the accents and idiomatic expressions found in different Spanish-speaking nations does not mean there aren’t any. She didn’t understand and kept telling me there’s “no difference” and “you can’t really tell”. I couldn’t believe it.

  • Ariadne

    I had a boyfriend who thought … because of my German last name that I was myself German. When I told him I was Hungarian he looked shocked and horrified. After half an hour of silence he grumbled, “I guess I can still accept you.” I think I was more confused than anything else. He himself was a mix and it never occurred to me that ethnicity or race would be an issue. Well after the relationship ended a friend linked me a post by him where he slammed the attractiveness of non-white women. Despite his hateful outburst I felt a little better because … the problem didn’t lie with my “failure” to either be German or play German but with his weird linkage of ethnicity or race with attractiveness. (As he put it in that same post, he doesn’t like “dusky” girls. I can assure you, darling, we don’t like you either.)

    Another really good one is … everything that’s ever happened to me as a female martial artist. When I first started a man assured me that “yes, we even allow girls [to train].” Then there were the guys who wouldn’t use the same amount of force on me during practice as they would the other men. There were rumors behind my back that I would leave after getting a boyfriend. Then when I continued and continued to improve there were the rumors that I was a lesbian/slut/in love with/jealous of etc. When I surpassed my male counterparts in rank there was another flurry of rumors, letters to my professors and employers, threatening phone calls, stalking, broken windows, a few actual physical attacks, and my personal favorite, the comment “you may have rank but women are weaker than men, and if I decide to attack you …” It really did eat away at me. It made me depressed, it made me question myself, it made me feel worthless, I did have to visit the hospital and talk to police, but ironically it was all meant to make me quit and make me look bad but it only strengthened my resolve and … I came out smelling like a rose to the people who count. In the end I learned that women are just as capable as men in martial arts and perhaps more because of the whole strength issue. Women might have smaller bodies on average, but that means to contend with a man she has to have better technique. Thus, if a man does well in martial arts it may just be because he’s strong, but if a woman does well in martial arts it means she’s a good martial artist. But I also want young women to be able to practice martial arts without having to constantly look over their shoulder. I did it under the constant threat of violence. I recognize that that only served to make me a stronger person, but it wasn’t by design. That’s not fair, and I wish I could make it never happen to anyone else. But I alone can’t.

    • Doctress Julia

      Wow. Thanks for your story. What martial art is it? I am curious. I really want to find one that is good for me, but I fear the same things that happened to you. I went to one place to talk about training in krav maga, and they said they didn’t have any ‘girls’ classes’, or some shit… I walked out, saying something like… oh, I WAS going to pay for years of classes… they tried to chase me down and change my mind. Ha, no dice.

      Back to yours though: you had classmates threaten you where you had to go to the police?? That is so fucked! Have you a blog, or anywhere I could read more about what happened? Dang…

  • Emily Uran

    I went and got a feminist-themed tattoo yesterday. As soon as I walked in the door and gave my name, the tattoo artist said, “You’re not butch at all.” I replied that not all feminists fit that stereotype and that anyone can be a feminist, no matter what they look like. Then, he went on to say, “We’ve all been talking about women’s lib. all day! Do you think it’s chauvinistic if men refuse to put the toilet seat down?” As if feminists have nothing more important to work for than bathroom etiquette! At least the tattoo turned out great!

    • infofeminist

      I had a similar experience when I had a feminist-themed tattoo done a few years ago. During my consultation, the artist thought it was “cute” that i was getting a “girl power” tattoo and then kept insisting that I should add some pink to it (the design was all black). Thankfully, it turned out great and the way I wanted it. :)

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    Yeah, I’ve been asked my whole life what kind of mix I am, by both white and Latin people (the immediate answer is Cuban and Irish. If I go back through either side of the family tree, it gets way more fun than that!) I don’t get much bothered by this in itself, or “exotic” or “cafe con leche”, I got bothered a lot when I was younger by outright racist kids who spoke against any type of mixing. I also get annoyed by people (predominantly white) who tell me I don’t look or act Latin–usually meaning I don’t look or act like the stereotypical idea in their mind. (then again, you have my Mom frequently stating my temper comes from being part Latin, also ability to dance, body shape…) I was once told I seemed more “white” because I was a weird arty girl into feminism – Like there was never Frieda Kahlo and Ana Mendieta…I have dark features but my skin itself is a little more leche than cafe, not as dark as my Dad or my brother and I’m in this weird headspace about that, I know there is colorism within Latin culture often and I fall on the privileged side of it. I think it should be eradicated but I’m inadvertently part of the problem and not entirely sure what I need to do.

  • Matt

    I’m an agnostic in the strongest sense of the word (in that I firmly do not believe there is a god/supernatural, although it’s notably not the same thing as saying I firmly believe there is no god/supernatural). I act according to the observable world, taking in scientific theories as far as they have been demonstrated (I’m a bigger believer in climate change / global warming than in string theory), so while I may hope for good outcomes, I do not “pray” for them. After sitting outside during five or six hours for my sister’s recent baby delivery and only getting to see my sister for about one minute of that stretch, my mom (who was pretty much with my sister the whole time, for better and for worse) steps outside. All of us outside and been receiving some text updates and a couple pictures from my sister’s husband, so we had a pretty good idea of what was going on, but after a very brief description of what was going on, my mom asks me (specifically) to pray for my sister. Every few weeks my mom makes an unwelcome religious appeal (even though I live on my own), but this occasion was not one I could get into an argument and clearly express my frustration with her evangelism.

  • Morgan

    Has anyone else noticed that the only acceptable “body” comments there are of the “I’m too thin” variety? My friends and I have tried to correct it by submitting, but they simply refuse to post fat microaggressions.

    It breaks my heart, but I can’t be apart of something with such giant blinders.

  • Pitch

    Hunh, well. Let’s see–

    Pretty for a black girl. I get this often alongside “Well you don’t look black” when, I am Black. American black always has some other things thrown in, but people always pepper the comments with “compliments” like…I lack a PROMINENT forehead and a WIDE nose and BAD skin. Like. whoa dude. What? That kind of racism bundled with othering is supposed to make me feel nice. Yeah, no.

    Just the tip of the iceberg, really.

  • davenj

    Because I don’t look stereotypically Jewish, don’t have a name that indicates that I am, and don’t wear any accoutrements that indicate my faith/ethnicity I usually hear a decent amount of anti-semitic stuff with the whole “elbow nudge, you get it too, right?” I then get to choose between ignoring it or creating a prolonged, awkward situation. Picking up change off the ground or doing anything to save money also creates some micro-aggressions, usually a raised eyebrow or a look that suggests that I’m devious or lesser for picking up a quarter or using a coupon.

    In a totally different area, I constantly deal with the “he’s gay” ribbing if I ever reveal that I watch Glee or have read the Twilight series, as if those things magically change one’s sexuality. It also annoys me because it’s a shoddy tactic for criticizing those works, a one-degree-of-separation way of saying “that [TV Show/Movie/Book] is gay”.

  • Anne

    two stories:

    1. i am a composer, and i was part of a group of four (3 males and myself) performing in a contemporary festival specific date in a bigger event, a few years ago. so at the opening, there came a photographer take pictures for the local news coverage, and he asked “just the composers” because there was a lot of people around, and the producer of the event, a woman a bit older than me, asked me to get to the side and “leave just the composers in the picture.” i was so shocked because supposedly she should have read our group’s release and know that i myself was a composer, not the decorative bit of the group…

    2. nowadays i teach at a university in which department i am the only female with a full contract. another one teaches there as hourly paid. so, one eve after the students’ graduation show we all went to a bar to socialise and celebrate (students along) and one of my colleagues, a married guy, by the way, said that if i weren’t gay and he wasn’t married, he would definitely ask me out on a date. i am not gay, but for himself the sole fact that i live alone and i got where i am now without the help of a male partner, i couldn’t be “entirely feminine”.

  • Emily

    Being told I look young. I have a PhD and teach at a University. I recently told this to someone I met at my table at a wedding, and she said “Oh! So, are you hoping to be a professor some day?” And I said, “I *am* a professor.” Her reply: “You don’t look old enough! I mean, really, you don’t look like you could even have finished a PhD.” I loved this conversation, as it seemed to articulate what usually is implied to me every time someone tells me I look young or like a student in the university context. People say “oh, you should take it as a compliment!” But, no, it’s frustrating and infantalizing. There’s an implication that a young woman isn’t capable of these accomplishments. Anyone else have a similar sense of frustration to being told you look young? It’s a difficult reaction to articulate, but it’s definitely problematic.

    • Jennifer

      This. 100%. I’m 23 (never mind how much lack of respect women in their early twenties get in the first place), and I’m constantly told that I look like a teenager. It’s extremely frustrating. When I share my frustrations with people they tell me that “you’ll be glad to look young when you’re past your 40s”. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. But right now, I want to be treated as an ADULT. I want to buy ammo and sit at the bar and even sit at a farking restaurant without being asked if I want a KID’S MENU! You might think that these all happened when I was out by myself and the workers were just making sure, but every instance I mentioned above has happened when I was very obviously with a group of people and I was singled out as being a kid.

    • Matt

      While not to this level, I had comments about my youth as a college teacher even a couple years ago (at the age of 28). I still sometimes have some people take me for a student, but when you serve a fair number of students in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, it’s easy for anyone who is “reckless” enough to make a guess to get it wrong.

    • prami

      fairly often in various places i get ‘how old are you?’, or alternately, somebody will say something like ‘wow, you must be young’, or even that i am ‘cute’. occasionally it is ‘you must be gay. got a boyfriend?’ (which is just a whole new level of ‘WOW, asshole, fuck off’). invariably these things mean they think i am male because of some essentialist assumption or other.

  • Seamster

    I’m privileged along pretty much every axis, so the status of this as a microaggression is debatable, but I felt microaggressed, so I’m sharing this for debate and potential mutual intellectual benefit.

    I had been studying in the other room from a small party next door when a female-presenting graduate student of colour (who was doing most of the talking) complained about an incident in which a professor had rudely “offered” to walk her home. This shifted to a general statement that men shouldn’t offer to walk women home. I joined the conversation and made a successful argument that it was in some circumstances appropriate, but phrasing was important. The conversation shifted to how to offer support to people with disabilities, because I cited a blogpost on that point in how to offer help without condescension or pressure.

    It was a feel-good moment! I felt like I had contributed to a high-level conversation on privilege without mansplaining, and knocked the ball out of the park.

    Then this grad student went on to discuss her experience of having been sexually harassed by the boys in her computer class in high school, in which she was the only woman. This is a valid thing to discuss, but she went far beyond personal experience and into generalization when she phrased it as, “you can’t trust the kind of guy who writes a program for fun that, I don’t know, calculates what day of the week a given date is.”

    I said, “there’s actually a closed-form equation for that.” She came up with two or three more mathematical examples, and I made comments for each one indicating that I did them for fun. The conversation moved on, and I didn’t make it about me, but it hurt.

    So if you think the patriarchy hurts men, too, and you enjoy having men (however white, cis, and straight they may be) join the discussion on how to make the world a better place through feminism (rah rah), please don’t do… that.

    PS: I understand that I have the “privilege of comfort” — I could walk away from the above conversation and go back to the world in which I receive preferential treatment for pretty much everything else. This is a statement of how I felt at the time.

  • Keke

    I am African American and when I first went to a doctor for prenatal care (my doctor at the time was a White male), he hardly looked at me. I asked questions and he just didn’t seem interested in answering them. Finally, after seeing my European husband’s last name (which is German/Polish) on a line for “father of child,” did he finally look up at me. He seemed shocked and said, “Oh, you did good. So you’ve got a good Jewish boy now, huh?” He then looked over my blood test results and said “Wow. No STD’s or diseases. Congratulations! Good for you!!! It did good not being like everyone you probably know right?” I got another doctor elsewhere after that. I was appalled.

  • Camilla

    My older sister is adopted from Mumbai, India (it is common for Swedish families to adopt from India, China etc. as well as adopting domestically). Me and my brother are biological siblings and not adopted. Though I do understand that this is something people find interesting and want to ask about, the comments I’ve gotten about my sister being an “Indian” in a Swedish family throughout the years are just… Oh my.
    Everything from my parents reproductive choices – “Oh, so you mom slept with a COLORED guy?” to “but how could you communicate?” (she was two months when she came to Sweden, it’s not like she could speak), to “she must have felt left out” (implicitly saying that since her skin color is darker than ours, she felt and was excluded from the family). The latest one, said by an older female professor at my University, was a real good one. She wondered (out loud) if it really is possible to love an adopted child as much as one you have carried yourself.
    I sat quiet.

  • Ellie

    As someone who writes and reads a lot of fiction, I hear terrible things about women writers from men. A fellow writer, a man, told me that a violent story I wrote scared him to the point that he didn’t talk to me for the first couple weeks of class. The main character in the story is a young woman who kills someone. I pointed out that he had no problem with another person in our class, a man, who had been in the army and had actually killed people. He said it was different.

    Men try to tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Men from other cities told me I portrayed my hometown wrong. I don’t know how they could possibly know that.

    The biggest insult is the near-complete lack of required texts written by women. We study contemporary literature, and we’re supposed to buy about 10 books per class. Usually about one is written by a woman. I know that fewer books by women are published, but they could at least pull their stats up to one-third of required texts. It sends the message, “Yeah, we’re teaching you how to write, but half of you will never be worth studying.”

    I have a theory that it’s harder for women to make time to write because of family responsibilities. I’ve worked for a few years as a babysitter, and it’s nearly impossible to come home after spending a day with children and work creatively. So much repetition goes into childcare — they ask you the same questions over and over, they need help with the same tasks again and again — that by the end of the day, your mind is numb. But I don’t know.

  • prami

    the word ‘transgender’, and a lot of other language people use to conceptualise me, a woman. no, my gender did not ever change; no, i am not anything other than female. i don’t need an extra qualifier that implies i ‘transgress’ or ‘transcend’ or ‘transform’ or ‘transplant’ or ‘transmogrify’ or ‘transport’ gender. if it was cool to define my gender in terms of a dominant, essentialist conception of gender, you might as well have just called me ‘shemale’. there is no form of femininity that is any more ‘cis’ than another.