Honest Conversation about Racism meetings continue

As part of the “An Honest Conversation about Race” series of presentations, Melissa Grey, professor of psychology, discussed the topic Microaggressions and Race on Sept. 10.

Melissa Grey, professor of psychology, displays her presentation about Microaggressions and Race via Zoom meeting.

At least 74 people joined the webinar from the Monroe County community.

There have been 5 meetings since May, occurring once a month and covering different topics.

MCCC President Kojo Quartey contacted Grey to present.

Quartey said they created a diversity committee, a county wide committee that meets on campus every other month.

Following George Floyd protests, Quartey sent out a daily email to the campus talking about the roles that leadership should play in regards to diversity and denouncing racism.

“I was invited to speak in Dundee, so one of the points I made there was that I felt that every other organization in our community should make a statement of ending racism because we know racism is wrong,” Quartey said.

This speech made Quartey to reflect on how a community could communicate about these situations, leading him to organize the presentations.

He said that the meetings regarding to “An Honest Conversation about Race,” have all been peaceful, welcoming anyone.

“I think they are getting better and better for each one we have, a lot of discussions happens,” Penny Dorcey, executive assistant to the president and board of trustees said.

Grey explained she gathered information from many people that influenced her presentation. The goal was to cover a brief review of racism, implicit biases, and microaggressions.

She mentioned that racism is a pattern of beliefs, behaviors, policies and practices systemically disadvantage and put down Black, Indigenous and People of Color and that provides advantages to white individuals.

“One of the things to highlight is the systematic part and often times we talk about individual’s experiences and we talk about experience with racial discrimination and we zoom in on that person’s experience,” Grey said.

Grey used a quote from psychologist Mahzarin Bajnaji to describe Implicit bias, “The thumbprint of the culture on our brain.”

She explained how people have negative connotations when dealing with race.

When people say “it was a dark day” or “black night” those can be tied to negative connotations about race.

After wrapping up Implicit Biases with race, she began to present about microaggressions.

In the beginning, everyone took a five-question survey with over 40 responses.

The questions and statements were:

  • A coworker says, “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”
  • A white woman says to a Black man, “As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.
  • “You don’t act like a gay guy.”
  • “Why do you have to be so animated? You just need to calm down.”
  • A Black woman is being followed through Meijer store by staff.

People rated these questions and statements between; not stressful, little stressful, a moderate level of stress or high level of stress.

Quartey said he experiences microaggressions all the time.

“I was playing tennis with a gentleman in Jefferson City, Missouri. It was the first time I’ve gone out to play tennis and I was with Dean of the Business Institution there, so we got to play a little bit, got to talking, and he says to me ‘you’re a credit to your race,’” Quartey said. “That’s a microaggression, he meant it to be positive, but I was offended.”

Quartey said he shook his head, which ended the tennis game and there was no interaction between the two for years.

Dorcey said she has never experienced microaggressions.

“I would be unlikely to experience them, mainly because I’m a white female,” she said. “Anyone can experience them such as women, people can make derogatory comments about women and how they can state how they should stay home, they shouldn’t have a job, they should be raising kids and cooking dinner for their husbands,” she said.

Quartey said you can experience microaggressions and racism without knowing it.

Grey said she had no idea on what to expect from the survey.

“I was hoping for people could start to see what assumptions they were making when they read those statements like that and I can understand why someone might rate something very upsetting or not very upsetting, but I just wanted to give the people a sense of where the group is at and how much variety there was with how people interpreted with some of those comments or with the experience of hearing those things might be,” she said.

There was a discussion about those who have faced similar experiences to the statements and questions regarding to microaggressions.

“From my understanding about microaggressions and I think in Psychology we understand microaggressions as a part of systems of oppression in racism and sexism and other inequalities and it was a topic that was brought up and I offered to support it,” Grey said.

Quartey said it showed him the nature of our society.

Florence Buchanan, president and founder of Customer Experience360, has been a part of these conversations since the beginning.

“I was one of the initial organizers of it, as a Black person, whenever I saw Black men murdered on TV and the George Floyd situation, I just thought something has to change,” Buchanan said.

Quartey and Buchanan had a meeting where she was asked to speak at one of the meetings.

Buchanan spoke at the first “Honest Conversation” meeting about general racism and her personal experiences.

“People want to make a difference in this community, I believe that within my heart and soul because people are passionate,” she said.

She explained the first meeting had 100 people but a couple meetings later after they switched from Zoom to Team, the number participants decreased.

Participant numbers increased again after meetings switched back to Zoom since the program allowed participants to can break off into smaller groups.

Buchanan said it’s important to get everyone’s perspective with smaller groups, it encourages more people to share their thoughts.

She said it is challenging because people want to know how why people say and feel certain things if they’re offended by something.

Buchanan said if our community can find the emotional intelligence to start communicating and saying, ‘That really did offend me, can we talk about that,’ everyone might feel better and understand one another.

Buchanan reflected on a time she was a freshman in college, she was in her English class and her teacher was doing a roll call.

“She said my name and I raised my hand and she looked over me and I raised my hand and she looked over me again then a third time I raised my hand she finally acknowledge that the name Florence Buchanan belonged to a Black person, but in her mind that was a white person name,” She said. “I was sitting in a certain area so there’s no way she could’ve missed me, that was my first conscious recognition.”

Buchanan said she was at least 18 or 19 years old but the event has stuck with her to this day.

“Now I’m learning to say something, as an African-American, we hold a lot in because you’re always in minority, you never know what reaction you’re going to get,” she said. “If you don’t do or say anything then things aren’t going to change but you have to say it so there is an honest conversation.”