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Exhibit spotlights micro-interactions

Gallery gives voice to oft-ignored microaggressions, microaffirmations for people of color at Brown

“Where are you really from?” “He’s not white. He is cool.” “Black girls can’t sing opera.” These are just a few examples of the quotes featured in the exhibition “Racial Microaggressions and Microaffirmations,” which opened Thursday at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. The display features 41 photographs of Brown community members of color, including students and faculty members, holding whiteboards, each bearing a microaggression or microaffirmation they have experienced. 

“It was painful to see (the) ubiquity of these experiences,” said Dannie Ritchie, clinical assistant professor of family medicine. By showing each face and individual story, the photographs provided emotional substance, she added.

Revealing microaggressions and microaffirmations in exhibition format “is the beginning of a larger process of awareness and the expansion of anti-racist communication and connection,” said Tricia Rose, director of the CSREA.

The exhibition focused specifically on microaggressions and microaffirmations that are brief and daily because “they serve as a powerful window on the casual but painful, ongoing and sometimes shocking ways that discriminatory and hurtful speech perpetuates societal inequalities, conflict and disrespect,” Rose said.

Focusing on micro-level interactions is significant, since perpetrators are often unaware of the effects of their communications, said Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg, the University ombudsperson, adding that the exhibition is a form of response on a subtle level.

The process of turning experiences into art was a collaborative one, Rose said. Individuals who brought in quotes for the project at CSREA’s community-wide invitation worked with photographers to decide the best form of presentation — for example, they discussed whether a drawing, a smile or a frown should accompany the quote.

CSREA organized photographs by contrasting styles and backdrops to evoke a sense of surprise and unpredictability, Rose said.

“I had to stop in shock,” said Marques Love ’17. “Any of these faces could have been me.” He added that had he known about the project, he would have shared a question he is commonly asked: “Marques? So you’re French?”

The emphasis on racial microaggressions has been gaining momentum at campuses across the country — similar projects have occurred at Fordham University and at Harvard with the #ITooAmHarvard campaign. But this exhibit differentiates itself from those elsewhere as it also focuses on affirmations.

The exhibit includes positive interactions because they exemplify affirmation and thus help build affirming communities, said Caitlin Murphy, outreach coordinator and executive assistant of CSREA. Featuring microaffirmations ensures the campus community is aware of how small acts of kindness can make a large impact, she added.

Many of the gallery viewers suggested that the exhibit should travel around campus. Murphy said though there have been no plans yet to do so, the photographs will soon be posted online.

The exhibition can be viewed at CSREA from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through the end of the semester.

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