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Don’t Be ‘ Dissin ’ on Rachel Jeantel : Learning from the Media’s Enactment and Perpetuation of Microaggressions s j Miller, Ph.D. University of Missouri, Kansas City Classroom Presentation for UC Boulder. Tell me about what you know about AAE: BEV / AAVE.

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Don’t Be ‘Dissin’ on Rachel Jeantel: Learning from the Media’s Enactment and Perpetuation of Microaggressions

sj Miller, Ph.D.

University of Missouri, Kansas City

Classroom Presentation for UC Boulder


Building on how Rachel Jeantel’suse of languagewas lambasted during the Zimmerman trial, let’s reflect on how negative or ignorant perceptions of AAE [BEV/AAVE] are taken up by the media and how that plays out in dominant culture--


The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostility, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (Sue, 2010,

p.3). Impact is more important than intent.

Sue, D.W. (Ed.). (2010). Microaggressions and marginality: Manifestation, dynamics, and impact. Hoboken: Wiley.



  • repetitive and ongoing
  • create discomfort, stress, trauma
  • reflect the active manifestation of oppressive world views that create, foster, and enforce marginalization
  • can occur through imposition or deprivation
  • manifest on a continuum from direct/concrete to symbolic or psychological, and unintentional, indirect, and subtle
  • power lies in their invisibility to the perpetrators and oftentimes the recipients.

I do believe that people experience themselves asmoral, good, decent, well-intentioned human beings, who may not be conscious of their hidden biases, prejudices, and discriminatory behavior.

I also believe that these same people are guilty of enacting microaggressions and can be held accountable to unlearning and reflecting on how to self-monitor the enactment of microaggressions.

common microaggressions

Black couple is seated next to the kitchen in a restaurant

  • Speaking loudly or slowly to someone with an accent
  • Assertive female is called a bitch
  • Use of word lame or retard
  • Emphasized friendliness
  • Effeminate man is assumed to be gay
  • Assuming that all Asian students will get good grades
  • School lacks a gay-straight alliance
  • Transgender people are not entitled to the same medical benefits for their needs
  • Woman wearing a stethoscope is assumed to be a nurse
  • Assuming some whose body is socially non-conforming is unhealthy or poor
  • Assuming that people with disabilities are asexual or desexualized
  • Helping a blind person across a street
  • Assuming someone is a lesbian because she plays softball or has short hair
Common microaggressions
dominant narratives stories behind the ma

Deliverers arrive at these “normalized” microaggressions because we:

  • Have bought into a stereotype
  • Allow the “norm” to construct our beliefs
  • Haven’t unpacked the beliefs or how they are reinforced
  • Fear being shamed or rebuked
  • Haven’t been called out on it.
Dominant narratives/stories behind the MA:
do now

In groups of 3 discuss the following:

Task 1

  • Discuss a microaggression that has been enacted against you.
  • Conjecture a dominant story/prejudice that was behind the microaggression.
  • How did you feel as a result? What was the impact?
  • What do you wish you could tell the person now who perpetuated the microaggression?

Task 2

  • Name a microaggression that you enacted against someone else.
  • What dominant story/prejudice was behind the microaggression?
  • How did you think the person felt who received the microaggression?
  • What do you wish you could tell the person now against whom you enacted the microaggression?
Do now…

Messages may:

  • Invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons;
  • Demean them on a personal or group level, communicate that they are lesser human beings;
  • Suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate;
  • Relegate them to inferior status and treatment;
  • Force them into a cognitive overload.
consequences emotional psychological and physical trauma

Receivers of microaggressions:

  • Are forced to sustain learned or detached tolerance to buffer one’s self against the countless microaggressions experienced throughout a typical (school);
  • Placate others by representing themselves in incomplete or false ways that they believe will be seen as socially acceptable. Such false fronts or defensive strategies are emotionally and cognitively exhausting and difficult;
  • Imprints them with emotional and sometimes physical scars that can last a lifetime;
  • Puts them at risk for health-related problems;
  • Can impact work productivity and problem solving abilities.
Consequences: Emotional, Psychological and Physical Trauma

Clip 1Clip 2: [10:10-end]

Clip 3:[ 0:00-2:30]

Rachel Jeantel…. (as you watch these clips, consider her facial gestures, hand gestures, eye rolls, body language)

Do now in groups of 4:

  • List 3-5 MA you saw enacted against her ( use the handout I provided- and smartboard them)
  • How do you think she felt- what was the impact (consider her facial gestures, hand gestures, eye rolls, body language)?

Commit to studying and understanding diverse discourse and linguistic patterns

  • Assert that each student has a right to learn in an environment free of bullying
  • Put up a safe zone placard in a classroom
  • Employ culturally responsive pedagogy
  • Stay open to being challenged about aggrievement toward others.

**Disrupting microaggressions about AAE…

in closing

Consider the following:

  • Be mindful of not “othering” students’ discourse patterns, consider ways to blend “academic language” with AAE: BEV/AAVE (etc.,)- they no not need to be mutually exclusive or nullifying. They can enrich the other- to speak both skillfully means one has a high degree of bilingualism or biculturalism and hence, cultural capital;
  • Schools are typically not set up for non-White discourse types of learning and so students of color are disadvantaged and must learn to adjust to different ways of performing…. Constantly mediating between home and school
  • Be mindful to not reinscribe a “new racism” by perpetuating MA through your teaching. In other words, blending language/discourses is not about “benevolence;”
  • Students are less likely to resist teachers when pedagogies are congruent with the cultural and linguistic identities to which they belong;
  • The media has tremendous power in disseminating and inscribing dominant perspectives. While many of us might be frustrated about ‘dissin’ on RJ at the trial, it provides opportunities to teach about how to disrupt microaggressions and shift both ourselves and our students into an agentive stance.
In closing…

**If you are teaching or working with primarily white students with similar discourse patterns, why is it critical to supporting academic capacity building of linguistically diverse students?**