Pretty much every Black person I know – myself included – can tell you of a time when they have been branded ‘aggressive’ or ‘intimidating’ by a white person. Get angry at someone who has done something wrong to you? Aggressive. Walking around in a group with your friends? Intimidating. Challenging any form of authority? Aggressive AND intimidating.
Everywhere Black people go they have to navigate around this branding. White people constantly claim to feel threatened by us, even when we are doing normal, innocuous things. There are a whole raft of cases I could point to in the United States of Black people having the police called for simply living while Black, because the white people who called 911 felt “threatened” or “intimidated” by the very existence of Black people around them (see examples here, here and here if you really need proof).
These cases are examples of really overt macroaggressions against Black people, and these take place in the US. But these aggressions happen here in the UK too, however, usually in ‘micro’ form. So subtle that, if you weren’t used to this type of thing (as many Black people have had to be) and you are ignorant about the insidious nature of racial prejudice, you wouldn’t notice it. That, for me, is what makes this so dangerous for Black people. When we experience these microaggressions, particularly in the workplace, it is extremely difficult to deal with because we then have the uphill battle of trying to make the powers that be understand why that behaviour is so offensive. Cue the gaslighting, and we are sometimes left wondering why we even bother.
But what really spurred me to write this post is the fact that these microaggressions are not limited to Black adults, they are forced upon Black children. Working in the education sector, I have seen how Black children in school are constantly stereotyped and misunderstood by the very people whose job it is to protect them and help them prepare for the adult world. I have had Black students come to me to lament the fact that they are considered to be aggressive by members of staff for passionately trying to get their point across, or because they simply hang out in a group and walk together down the corridors – behaviour that is hardly ever labelled in that way when carried out by their white counterparts.
Ultimately, what needs to be recognised is that, by doing this, white people are essentially suppressing Black people’s freedom to exist. No, that is not hyperbole. By labelling the most basic behaviours as ‘aggressive’, ‘intimidating’ and ‘threatening’, you are telling Black people that the only behaviour that is acceptable is behaviour that makes you feel comfortable, and that is of paramount importance. You are telling us that our legitimate concerns and feelings can and should be dismissed if they are not expressed in a way that you like. It is a power play that serves to remind us that we are in your space, and access to that space can easily be revoked. Not only is that peak privilege in action, it is also highly unreasonable, and here in 2018 Black people – Black children in particular – deserve better than to be subjected to this form of aggression. Black children shouldn’t have to grow up with the expectation that this is how their adult life will be, and that they will have to constantly code switch in order to survive.
If your go-to reaction is to call a Black person aggressive/intimidating/threatening for exhibiting basic human emotion and behaviour then you, my friend, are the aggressive one.