Thursday, March 9, 2017

Microfriendliness

In an attempt to explain the racial subtext of the movie Get Out to a class of Turkish high school students, I gave some American perspective on why it’s such an interesting idea for a film. I mentioned microaggression and gave a couple examples, such as fondling black women’s hair, or squeezing a black man’s muscles in an inappropriate display of flattery. This kind of invasiveness is reminiscent of the days of slavery when white people felt entitled to put their hands on black people and inspect them physically on the auction block. I gave an example of a Turkish woman jokingly telling me she has “black person’s throat” before bursting into gravely song. No matter the good intentions, comments like these reinforce stereotypes that black people sing like Louis Armstrong and Howlin’ Wolf, or that it’s okay to treat black people like physical objects of white people’s fascination.

A student with an unwavering smile offered the paradoxical expression “positive racism” and I couldn’t help but laugh. Amidst all of the awful news reports I hear every time 45 says or tweets something stupid, I’m grateful to those who make me laugh and help me see the bright side of life. Kellyanne Conway coined the expression “alternative facts,” but I found that to be less charming and funny, probably because she doesn’t have the luxury of being fifteen. I’m still reeling from Ben Carson calling slaves immigrants who “worked harder for less” and had a dream that their descendants might pursue prosperity.

Anyway, I believe that when people lose control of big things, they turn their attention to minor things, even on a subconscious level. British people lost their empire and later they turned their efforts to defending the Falkland Islands. Early Americans lost the right to own slaves, so they substituted slaveholding with discrimination and violence and microagrression.

Where big problems loom, but no one knows how to fix them, people turn to petty gossip, micromanaging, and being nitpicky and rude. When the problems of the world seem overwhelming, I think, “So many people need help. How is it possible to help so many people?” Since microaggression is so prominent, I wonder why can’t we have microfriendliness or microempathy? Just give a little here and there.

This idea came to me when my friend mentioned a charity to help someone we know who is going through very hard times. I needed something uplifting, like people helping other people, to lift me out of my microcomplaining mindset. (The grocery store was out of strawberry milk!) I haven’t given my contribution yet, but my resolve to do so has me already feeling better, strawberry milk or no strawberry milk.

A couple of my friends have suggested that I keep a gratitude journal, but I think I might instead keep track of the opportunities I take to help or somehow uplift other people. Even just smiling and displaying a friendly face to people who have had a hard day is an act of microfriendliness.  Although a simple smile or small contribution may not seem like much, it can reverberate like an echo and reach many people in the end. 

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