Racism – defined as a display of hatred and discomfort with those one considers inferior to them simply based on race – is commonly considered blatant. But what people often forget is that many times, racism is present in a look or a remark that can seem insignificant until you stop and think about it. Like when students or even professors assume brown people must be from a different country, as opposed to America. Small forms of racism permeate the daily lives of people of color – like mine as a Latinx – and can be found in actions that some might not have even considered before.
It’s essential for everybody in our community to condemn all types of racism, not just the bold moves that can make the University look bad. While everyone was quick to talk about the racist Snapchat post that spread across campus, less obvious acts of racism tend to go unnoticed. Racial microaggressions are everyday actions that are hurtful and based on prejudices. These include instances of racism that are more subtle, yet equally – if not even more – hurtful. It’s vital for bystanders to be able to spot when these instances happen and intervene, and for students and the University to have a strong no-discrimination-allowed policy. If our campus is to be a welcoming space for everybody, then discrimination has no place here.
Unfortunately, I experienced this subtle racism from my professor in my University Writing class this semester. For my essay topic, I wanted to write about Tejano music. When consulting with me about my topic, he stated that the musicians from low socio-economic and unfinished education backgrounds that I wanted to write about were “just like your family.” I hadn’t mentioned my family, yet my professor believed it was correct to make that connection. Maybe it was because the music we were talking about was Tejano music – popular music among Mexican-Americans in southern Texas – and he saw my name, Velazquez, and assumed I was Mexican-American. Although I am Mexican-American, that doesn’t mean that I fit into a box of stereotypes, with parents with no education or who came here illegally, like the musicians we were talking about. The problem is not whether or not I actually fit those stereotypes, but that the professor assumed that just because I was Latinx, I automatically filled these labels.
Even if my professor didn’t say this maliciously, the assumption comes from racist preconceived notions that have a long history of hurting people. Another example of this that I have seen all my life is the look of thinly hidden fear and disgust people have every time my dad introduces himself as a sales manager at a manufacturing company. They automatically assume that my dad’s heavy accent means that he works here illegally – and most likely in construction or gardening. This form of racism has become more and more common, in part because of President Donald Trump’s speeches where he denounces Latinxs as rapists and drug dealers, which can make people believe it is acceptable for them to exhibit such racist behavior now. Racial tensions have increased since his election, not just those directed at a person, but through subtle instances, such as the raising of the confederate flag or the occasional lighthearted chants of “Build That Wall!” that my friends and I have heard in Thurston Hall before. The University must take steps to teach students by covering microaggressions during the announced mandatory diversity training sessions.
But I’m not the only person of color at GW who’s had professors and classmates make generalized comments that caused pain or discomfort without malicious intentions. One common example is being asked, “But where are you really from?”
Professors are not the only ones who are guilty of microaggressions. There have been students in classes dismissing the experiences of students of color. Many student organizations are also predominantly white. All of these experiences cause great distress between students of color. To discipline instances of this, GW must clearly outline racist conduct that can be considered a violation of the student code of conduct, and by publicly identifying racist actions as such when they happen.
Having good intentions does not stop words or actions from being negatively impactful. Despite the recent racial tensions on campus, GW Today’s Feb. 5 email relegated a story on Black Heritage Month to the very bottom, putting less important stories, such as transcript availability and research, first. Students, professors and the community must be aware of the impact of their actions and words. Through learning of others’ struggles and thinking before they speak, they can take notice of their own preconceived notions. By taking a moment to pause and think, people can realize the consequences of their words and how they will make an impact.
Realizing the drastic negative impact that all types of racism can cause is essential, especially in public settings like a university. To be able to make a step forward toward equality, we need to vocally advocate the end of all types of racism, and as allies, actively help support our peers in the face of adversity. More and more minority groups feel cast out and uncomfortable on campus, especially in light of recent events. If while reading this, you think you have never seen something like this happen at GW, pay attention. Pay attention to others’ actions and to your own thoughts. Think about why you believe these acts of racism only happen in the past, and take action next time they occur in the present.
Alejandra Velazquez, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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