Tatiana Mac on Creating a Viral Thread About Microaggressions
Last week, interdisciplinary art director Tatiana Mac started a Twitter thread about microaggressions, outlining several interactions in which she had been overlooked, intentionally ignored and even physically accosted as a woman of color. In her thread she explained how people of color often feel erasure when sharing spaces with white people whether it’s waiting in line at a coffee shop, ordering at a restaurant or shopping for groceries. The thread quickly went viral with thousands of reactions and many separate discussions ensued. Many agreed with the sentiments she expressed, however there were also several people asking if her experiences truly related to race, and as is common on Twitter, some accounts resorted to insults.
We wanted to dig deeper into the issue of microaggressions and reached out to Mac to find out more about what motivated her to start this discussion and why she thinks it’s important to continually speak about subjects that make people uncomfortable.
I imagine you’ve experienced a lot of microagressions over the years. What prompted you to start your thread on Twitter?
Tatiana Mac: It’s kind of embarrassing but as a person of color I didn’t really have my “awakening” until my 30s. I went virtually my entire life not realizing what was going on around me. Growing up in Portland, I don’t know if you know a lot about our history, but Oregon is one of the most racist states. Portland is what one of my friends coined as “faux-gressive”, it’s not super diverse here and predominantly white but the folks who live here have a sense of being part of this neoliberal elite. The perfect example was during the 2016 election. There was a lot of shock around Trump actually winning, and I think it was because there wasn’t this realization within pockets of Portland that not far away are tons of super conservative folks within Oregon. It was really eye-opening for a lot of people here locally including myself. After the election, it really opened my eyes to the environment that I live in. I started reading a lot more and started paying closer attention to the ways in which basically white supremacy affects my life every day.
On that day, [when I wrote the thread] I had just a regular, hard day. A lot of things were already not going right but in observing the components of the day, I realized that there was a whole other facet and layer of what was going on. I think a lot of folks of color understand because they go through it day in and day out. I just wanted to dissect those microaggressions and illustrate how difficult it is to define each one of them and how easy it is for folks to dismiss.
How would you describe the reaction you got to your thread? What were some positives and some negatives?
Thousands of people shared their own experiences with microaggressions, some examples much more severe, some very similar, and overall there was just this feeling of unity amongst folks of color. When you’re by yourself and you experience them it’s very easy to dismiss yourself; we’re not immune to the effects of white supremacy either so to question our own experiences is very common among people of color. I think it was rewarding to see so many people be like “I am so glad that I’m not alone or crazy, or that these experiences are actually real.” And then, I think a lot of white people who commented saw it as an opportunity to self-reflect upon their own actions.
On the negative side, there were also insults; someone called me a Jungle Asian today. He was calling me that because he falsely assumed that I was black, as if black people are the only people who are speaking out against race and are the only ones affected by it. He basically misidentified me, then corrected himself and was like “oh she’s actually a Jungle Asian so we shouldn’t have her sent back to the lovely people of South Asia, we should send her back to Africa instead.” There are so many layers of racism to unpack there but that’s what’s on the extreme end. Is it offensive? Yes. Is it something new? No. Is it what I expected? Yes.
The thing that’s more annoying to deal with, quite honestly, are the people who acknowledge that racism exists, for example acknowledge that black men and women are incarcerated more frequently but they don’t find microaggressions to be a valid argument. They feel that the term microaggression is somehow demeaning to the definition of racism.
I saw that a lot of people asking you “are you sure it’s race?” in response to your post. What was your response and why do you think that a lot of people brought that into the conversation?
I think because we’re all selfish, we all want to feel part of something. I read something recently that really struck a chord with me, someone said “white people are so eager to be oppressed.” I think that’s a perfect way of describing a lot of the responses I received. A lot of people said “well, I get pushed at the grocery store too and it happens all the time so it’s just people being rude.” Of course I understand and see that white people also get pushed but that’s not what we’re talking about at all. The fact that we are forced to question every interaction and to consider that it might be race is the very oppression that I’m talking about. White people don’t have to consider when someone shoves them whether its race or not, they can just get to be like that person is ill-mannered, but they don’t have to say I wonder if race comes into this.
A lot of people were also asking why don’t people of color just defend themselves, stand up for themselves?
I think that’s definitely a valid reaction. There are people of color who they will defend themselves and they’ll speak up. They’ll physically get involved if they need to but I think that for me, a couple of things come to mind. I will say something, for example, but that is expending so much additional energy. If someone puts themselves in the position of a person of color they are already going through all these mental gymnastics of asking “was that a racist interaction?” For me now, I have to find a way to respond and to “appropriately act” and appropriately call this person out — that’s a ton more emotional energy. I also don’t know if that person’s going to get violent with me or what’s going to happen from there. Essentially this situation is asking me to (a) expend emotional energy when I’m already tired and then (b) can potentially put me in danger to defend myself and to create justice for myself in a system built by white people to oppress me. You’re asking me to dismantle white supremacy in addition to just already being tired that I live in a system of white supremacy.
Also, in what world does a person of color want to be in a position where the cops are going to be called? We’ve seen I think now, unfortunately, hundreds of examples of brown and black people having the cops called on them for merely existing and doing absolutely nothing wrong. So, to further that kind of complexity, not only do you want me to dismantle white supremacy, you also want me to speak out in an environment where speaking out could result in being incarcerated. No thank you, I’ll pass on that.
What do you think happens over time when people deny that microaggressions exist?
This is a really great question. I was thinking about this and was going to tweet this — I think that a microaggression is the gateway to full-blown hatefulness and to put it more extremely, microaggressions are the gateway drug to genocide. If you think about how we got to where we were in terms of the Holocaust it was not immediate, it wasn’t all of a sudden “Ban all Jews.” It started in very minor ways.
The institutional racism in our country was a slow burn and I think that microaggressions are the first signal and the first practice round for a type of racism that nearly anyone can do. It’s like a beginner’s activity for racism. You don’t even notice you’re doing it, it’s easy to deny, your friends do it. You can still claim that you’re not racist.
I think that that denial of microaggressions can eventually lead to larger blown aggression. You are feeling superior to someone else and starting to take up a little bit more room than them. Well, eventually that extends from your personal space to your housing complex to your neighborhood; that’s how it all starts.
What are you going to do with this experience?
It’s definitely motivated me and I think I’ve positively influenced people, and I definitely want to continue that momentum. Some personal things I’m doing; I’m just talking about race a lot more. I was talking to a colleague a while back about how when I’m around white people that’s all I want to talk about because the sooner we can get white people to be less uncomfortable with race or rather be more comfortable in their discomfort of race, that’s the only that we’re going to be able to make any progress. I think that I want to have these conversations more and more wherever I can. I talk to Lyft drivers about it, I talk to people in the grocery store line about it.
Then in the tech community, I’m starting to apply to conferences and trying to feature this as a topic that’s discussed more within the lens of tech because design often talks about empathy. It requires empathy to be a good designer but if people flat out deny white supremacy, I don’t know how white designers can design for non-white designers. Accessibility is another huge thing for me. For non-disabled folks to design with disabled folks in mind, we have to open our minds to empathy and to see things that our privilege prevents us from seeing. I ultimately want to make the products and the experiences we create to be more inclusive and more accessible and it requires that conversation on race to do it.
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