People Of Color Are Sharing Their Experiences With Racial Microaggressions In School, And Honestly, None Of These Stories Should Ever Have Happened
"Racism was the worst in elementary school."
Racial microaggressions are unfortunately very common, and many people of color face them today in many settings — including at school.
1. "I went to a predominantly white private school. Everyone assumed that I, as a person of color, was only there on a scholarship and couldn’t afford it otherwise."
2. Aside from the usual 'You don’t sound Black' comments, the one I would always get is, 'What are you?'"
"I’m an adopted mixed girl and only child in a white family, and people could never figure me out. I never really fit in. The weird part is, I never realized how lonely it was until I grew up and made a couple of really good friends."
3. "As an Arabic and Muslim woman, my experience in a predominantly white school was uncomfortable. My classmates often made 'jokes' about me hiding a bomb in my backpack, or they’d mock me for speaking Arabic."
"My first (white) boyfriend was also involved in this, and because I was scared of being rejected by him and his friends, I’d laugh along at these 'jokes.' Thinking back on it now, I wish I’d said something. I’ve also had teachers discriminate against me, completely discarding their duty to educate me and often pretending I didn’t exist. I still struggle with feeling proud of my heritage to this day."
4. "I am a Korean adoptee who was raised in a white family and white community in Minnesota. I was one of two kids who weren’t white in my entire grade. I faced a lot of racism, prejudice, and microaggressions as a child, teen, and adult."
5. "I'm mixed and go to a mostly white school, and I hear a lot of racist stuff, like 'I'm part of the KKK,' or people make fun of my hair. A substitute picked on me, and my other Black friend and I have been called a 'monkey' and 'slave.'"
"I can't talk to teachers because my school doesn't have any Black teachers."
6. "I was born and raised in the USA, but my parents are originally from Mexico. I went to a predominantly white high school where my own 'friends' would make jokes about whether my parents and I were here illegally."
"They would also make jokes saying that I 'better study so [I] don’t become the cleaning lady,' or, 'I saw your cousin in the back of a cop car the other day.' I had this one guy yell 'Maria' to me to get my attention one time. I asked him why he called me 'Maria' when that was NOWHERE close to my actual name; he just shrugged and laughed and said he had a 50/50 chance of getting it right — but to not be offended because he called his male Latinx friend 'José' when that was not his name, either. I used to laugh it off and didn’t think anything of it because they were my 'friends,' and I thought they were just joking. But now, over 10 years later, I get so angry thinking about those comments, and I regret brushing them off and never saying anything about them."
7. "Bear it in mind we were boarders, and the whole school knew I was British Japanese, but I was still referred to as Chinese or anything that denotes a 'dark foreigner': Thai, Indian, Italian, Egyptian, etc. Slurs as well, but, 'Hey, it was just a joke! Can't you take a joke?!'"
"Probably the most exhausting: People persistently 'failed' to notice blatant racist or xenophobic comments. This made me feel a little paranoid afterward, and it got to the point where I learned to ignore bigoted comments. I struggled with resentment and guilt, though. I loathed compliments that used words like 'exotic' and phrases like, 'You speak English well.' Same with sex-related comments made on the assumption that all Chinese girls wanted a white boyfriend, so they'd sleep with any white boy to bag one."
8. "Where do I even begin? Aside from the usual casual touching of my hair from peers, I was told I didn't sound Black. Being told I'm 'well-spoken, considering...' People being surprised by my intelligence. Getting told that my hair was not an appropriate style when it's literally my natural hair."
9. In high school, I dated a sitting US congressman’s nephew, who is white. His white male friends openly wondered about the Kama Sutra and my 'spiciness,' and the white female ones would, in front of me but behind his back, ask, 'How could he ever kiss a curry breath like her?'"
"This resulted in him not believing it was happening and gaslighting me about it, telling me to improve my social skills. Indians aren’t all spicy, the Kama Sutra is not required reading for our people, and Asian people not getting along with racists doesn’t mean we lack social skills!"
—Anonymous, 21, US
10. "I’m Japanese American (my mom is Japanese, born in Japan, and my dad is Japanese American). I grew up in western, ritzy Connecticut. Racism was the worst in elementary school."
"I got bullied a lot for having a 'flat face,' for my hair being darker than everyone else’s, and for my eyes. If I, god forbid, slipped up and spoke Japanese at school, I got laughed at. I got made fun of for liking Sanrio things (like Hello Kitty). It was also teachers — I got pushed into advanced math when I was solid, but not great at it, so I just felt overwhelmed by math all the time. I had chronic headaches from stress, and my parents met with the principal to possibly transfer me (I ended up not transferring, and it got better in middle school, where I wasn’t the only Asian kid anymore)."
11. "My AP Human Geography teacher was listening to me while I expressed how I felt in the middle school I came from (I spent one year in a private school in eighth grade where I was one of three POC). She alleged that people didn’t expect my voice out of me because I 'talk white.'"
"Honestly, I didn’t know what to make out of it, and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the nuances of this topic and laughed it off. Now I’d love to ask her what it means to her to 'talk white.'"
12. "Black woman from Houston here. Two incidents come to mind immediately, both occurring around the early 2000s."
"I went to a private PWI in Ohio. The college had minivans that students could borrow when their organizations went to off-campus events. Anytime I went to sign out the keys, the white lady secretary ALWAYS wrote down that I was from whatever the Black student organization is on campus. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And EVERY SINGLE TIME, I had to correct her because I was usually requesting keys as a resident assistant.
"I went to law school in New Orleans. There are only two in the city, so I won't mention which one it was. First-year law students start interviewing for summer legal internships/clerkships during the spring semester. The students are assigned a career counselor, and mine was a lovely white woman who insisted I wear a wig to my interviews. No law firm would hire me with 'that curly Afro.'"
13. "My brother and I are Filipino. We went to a predominantly white school from kindergarten to high school. People were terrible; we were made fun of for being Chinese, Japanese, or whatever other inaccurate or inappropriate cultural reference people came up with. Once, my brother went to a party in high school and got into a fight because he was being picked on for being Asian."
14. "I’m Black and from the Midwest suburbs, so for the majority of my schooling, I was either the only Black student or maybe one of two or three Black kids. Little kids are so cruel! They made fun of my hair, lips, and nose. One year, we had a firefighter come and spray all the kids with a hose (wtf, I know), and I remember my hair getting wet and being surrounded by white kids pointing and laughing at my hair as it shrunk up."
"To this day, I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention in a big group. Boys would say, 'I’d totally date you if you weren’t Black,' or I got the 'You’re so pretty FOR A BLACK GIRL' comments. When we'd learn about slavery, they would stare at me and make awful comments. This really did a number on my self-esteem until I was in high school/college and got to be around more POCs.
“White parents: Please speak to your kids about race and racism early and often before they torture the BIPOC kids in their schools."
15. "I’m a Chinese-Malay Muslim, and I attended a predominantly white school in England. I had classmates make fun of my eyes by stretching them out, constantly mocked my mum’s accent, and make ‘jokes’ about bombs and terrorism when they found out my father was a Muslim."
"Luckily, my school was quick to deal with it. They gave my troublesome classmates a scolding and detention, and they never bothered me and other POCs in the school again."
16. "I was the only Mexican American in my school, and for a long time. Everyone — including people I considered to be close friends — would only refer to me as 'Mexican,' as if it were a nickname. I would be poked and prodded as people would ask about my tan, hair texture, and lip size. I once even had a waitress at a local restaurant come up to me, touch my face, and ask, 'Wow, what are you?' thinking it was a compliment. It isn't."
"Neither is, 'You're pretty for what you are.' I think the weirdest part now is seeing people I went to school with, who I have no memory of but they remember me vividly, and realizing it's because I stood out in a sea of white people. They don't remember me because of my personality; they just recognize me based on my skin tone."
—Anonymous, 29, Kentucky
17. "One of my microaggressions at school was from an English teacher. She had one perfect score on a test, but she deducted three points because the person did not include their name. I recognized my handwriting and said that it was mine. She said, 'I don't think so — this is a perfect score.'"
18. "I’m Black, Korean, and white and grew up in the South. My schools were pretty diverse, considering, but still overwhelmingly white. First day of seventh grade, someone I hadn’t seen all summer came up to me and said, 'Hey, look who it is. Glad the gangs didn’t get ya.'"
"When I told him that was racist and to piss off, he said, 'Hey! Don’t go all kung fu on me.' Also, I had a career adviser/counselor in high school tell me not to succumb to any familial pressures of becoming a doctor. I never once mentioned anything relating to the medical field."
19. "I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and was the only Chinese girl among white students. I got dirty looks and wrinkled noses when I ate my Chinese food from home, got asked all the time why my eyes were so small, was told my English was 'so good!!!' You know, just your usual microaggressions."
"I stuck out like the sorest of thumbs, and boy, did I hate it. I became ashamed of my Chinese heritage and refused to learn any more Chinese because I didn't wanna be seen as even 'weirder.'"
20. "I was outrageously shy and timid in elementary school. However, that didn’t stop my mom from encouraging me to perform my best academically. I was a STAR student and a bit of a teacher’s pet. I won an outstanding number of awards at my fifth-grade ceremony, and it was a heartwarming moment for me and my teachers. Later that week, my 'friends' decided to show me some more gratitude: They jumped into a conversation that ultimately translated into my Blackness being the only reason I was gifted with my awards."
"I was 11 at the time and had already had conversation about race with my mother. Still, for my own friends to feel absolutely defeated by a 'smart Black' because of their own internalized stereotypes about Blackness HURT. Today I'm in university and have garnered multiple accolades and awards for my hard work. Still, even when a professor or peer is earnestly applauding me, I can’t help but hear that conversation from over a decade ago: 'Yeah, you do know that doesn’t mean anything, right?' 'You needed this more than I did.' 'This isn’t fair.' 'It’s because you're Black.'"
—Anonymous, 20, Atlanta
21. "My teachers wouldn’t pronounce my name properly and didn’t attempt to. I was told not to speak Spanish with my peers because 'we are in America.'"
22. "I'm Middle Eastern and attended a predominantly Irish and Italian Catholic school. Anytime it came up in class, I was always made to feel like 9/11 was not my day to grieve, even though my parents and I were born and raised in the US."
"I was in first grade when it happened, but every year, it’s a really weird day for me."
23. "I was always the only or one of the few Latino and Black students in my class (I'm Haitian and Puerto Rican). I had to overcome discrimination in school. Once, in sixth grade, a group of teachers in middle school flunked me for three out of six classes and told my parents I needed to be tested for learning issues. I actually was tested and had college-level math and reading."
"My parents were furious and transferred me to another school. I graduated at the top of my class in high school and went to MIT. When word got out about my acceptance, I remember other students were aggressively vocal about my going to a top college 'because of my race' instead of 'being deserving.' What hurt the most was that a white 'friend' of mine who didn't work hard at all and didn't apply to competitive colleges was among the people pushing that narrative."
24. "I always stuck out, even in Southern California. Growing up, I was one of the few Asian kids in school. I learned at a very young age that people thought it was 'better' to be white."
"There were the typical stereotypes: good at math, A student; kids made fun of my name, my food. Also, I was aways asked 'what kind of Asian' I was, and people were surprised at how well I spoke English. I remember being embarrassed about my heritage and my parents."
—Anonymous, 45, Oceanside, California
25. "As a first-grader (age 5), I was called the n-word and told that my skin was dirty. At home, I tried to scrub the color off my skin at bath time. My mom was enraged and armed me with verbal retorts to use to defend myself the next time it happened at school."
Have you experienced racial microaggressions as a person of color in school? Feel free to share your story below.
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.