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I am Trayvon and Sometimes Lebron: Negotiating Microaggressions Within and Outside of Academe


by Fred A. Bonner, II - June 01, 2012

This commentary centers on an experience that one African American male scholar had with microaggression. Parallels and intersections are drawn among microaggression, racial identity, and the contemporary Trayvon Martin case.

Having recently assumed the mantle of professor and endowed chair in one of the country’s leading research universities, it was my description of “having made it to the NBA of faculty life” that would serve as more than just a passing analogy, but oddly emblematic of what was to be on one very memorable March morning. The cold and slightly rainy day in the Jersey suburb was made a bit more manageable because of my band of brothers who accompanied me and the realtor on this house-hunting mission. To fend off the chill in the air, we each wore hoodies—not only the attire of choice for the young and hip millennial crew, but also the clothing option selected by 30- and 40-something-year-old bald Black males. One hoodie read Baylor Bears, another, Rutgers University, and the third, Houston Texans. As we stepped from the vehicle, the real estate agent representing the home we were about to tour emerged and informed us that the staging of the dwelling had been completed and that she was off to the next site. But before she left, she paused and commented, “Are you guys basketball players?” Without hesitation, I stated, “No.” And, before I could continue, she interjected, “Oh, well you must be college students.” My friend wearing the Baylor hoodie responded, “Actually, we aren’t basketball players or students, he is a professor and endowed chair at Rutgers, he is an account executive for the Houston Texans, and I am an executive director for a nonprofit organization.” Colloquially speaking, “You could have bought her for a dime.” The look on her face was almost as telling as the response she offered, offered in my estimation as a way to retreat from a situation that was for her at best embarrassing and at worst demeaning—“Well, you should buy this house and become my neighbors!”


For those who have never experienced the staccato rhythms of being a person of color in America, this situation might seem trivial, or it might seem that somehow I am making a “mountain out of a mole hill.” After all, she did make amends by offering up the proverbial sacrificial lamb, her willingness to live next to a Black man; that should count for something, shouldn’t it? As I reflect on the situation then and now, I come to the same psychological space; forgiving what I am semi-certain she did not realize was a transgression is not the issue. What is at issue here is the cyclical and persistent nature of the unintentional (sometimes intentional) microaggressions that I, along with other Black men, have to endure. Described by Solorzano, Ceja, and Yosso in their 2000 article, “Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus Racial Climate: The Experiences of African American College Students” as indirect racially motivated comments that are advanced through verbal, nonverbal, and/or visual means, it was the microaggression I experienced firsthand on this day that seemed to shape the contours of the rest of my day. Although many of my discussions of microaggression and its attendant impact have centered on experiences in academe, and though many of the scholars who unpack this concept use their experiences in higher education as the primary context, it is both within and outside postsecondary settings that these actions must be confronted. Higher education is a microcosm of larger society, and therefore, the perils exacted on us by our congruous external communities are operationalized in similar but nuanced ways inside the hallowed halls of the academy. Outside of the academy, life is often experienced as the juxtaposition of opposing frames—one frame the invisible Black male, namely, the customer service agent who attends to the needs of the White patron who approaches the counter minutes after I did, and when confronted with the specter of racism, says, “I didn’t see you standing there.” Or, the second frame that renders me hypervisible in scenarios in which my identity and its relative fit within particular contexts are instantaneously sent through a series of permutations; the outcome is a set of scripts that reveal whether I am in the “right place” at the “right time.”


Somewhere in between acts of microaggression, I and my Black male counterparts in higher education have crafted spaces that foster resilience in the face of racism and recalcitrance. Additionally, we have provided new scripts and counternarratives that combat stereotypical notions held by those who populate our classrooms or sit next to us in departmental meetings. Yet, there is still much work to do. A microaggression anywhere means an impending threat to social justice everywhere. What in the mental reservoir of the realtor in the story at the beginning of this article made “basketball player” the first container she reached for on her categorization shelf? And is it the same reservoir that others tend to draw from when it comes to their view and subsequent treatment of Black males in and outside of the academy? Unless we are willing to confront microaggressions at their core, we will continue to make faulty assumptions that equate wearing a hoodie to being a hoodlum, and being Black, male, and bald with being a basketball player.


References


Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69, 60–73.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 01, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16782, Date Accessed: 7/14/2020 6:03:35 AM

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About the Author
  • Fred Bonner, II
    Rutgers University
    E-mail Author
    FRED A. BONNER, II, is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Chair in Education at Rutgers University. Formerly he served as professor of higher education administration in the Educational Administration and Human Resource Development Department and as associate dean of faculties at Texas A&M University–College Station. Bonner has completed the book Academically Gifted African American Males in College, which highlights the experiences of postsecondary gifted African American male undergraduates in predominantly White and historically Black college contexts. He has also recently completed the book titled Diverse Millennial Students in College: Implications for Faculty and Student Affairs. Bonner was awarded a $1 million National Science Foundation grant that focused on success factors influencing high-achieving African American students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines in HBCUs.
 
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