Negesti Kaudo

Unbothered: A Microaggression

Excerpt from Negesti Kaudo’s Ripe: Essays, used by permission of Mad Creek Books, an imprint of The Ohio State University Press.

And when it happens, it won’t sit with you right. You feel a pang in your chest, and you’re not sure if it’s anger or sadness. You have three options: fight, flight, or—

I bring up the mathematical theory of chaos in my nonfiction class to discuss a book. I am the only black body in this space. Everyone looks at me as if Chaos Theory does not exist, as if I have made it up on the spot because they don’t know it. And for a moment, I think: maybe I did make it up, maybe I am not as smart as I believe I am, maybe Chaos Theory doesn’t exist—

Next to me, a white man in the room says—not to me, but in the direction of the center of the room— “That must be that Columbus Public School education, right there.”




And when it happens, it won’t sit with you right. You feel a pang in your chest, and you’re not sure if it’s anger or sadness. You have three options: fight, flight, or—

I am setting up a presentation in class, when a white man says something in passing about being a white man. And I tell him, I wouldn’t know because I am not a white man. He looks me in the eyes—piercing blue, Eurocentric beauty—and asks me: “But don’t you want to be a white man? You can get everything you want without even trying.”




And when it happens, it won’t sit with you right. You feel a pang in your chest, and you’re not sure if it’s anger or sadness. You have three options: fight, flight, or—

I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a writing conference. I am here, specifically, to read an essay on race. With me, are two other (white) women and our chaperone, a white man (not particularly interested in the conference, but more being in New Mexico). We have taken a taxi to a part of Albuquerque that boasts Breaking Bad and Old Town simultaneously. The restaurant is an authentic Mexican restaurant, as authentic as one can get in New Mexico, and we walk in a group of five, asking for a table of five. The manager, from behind the counter sees us and laughs.

“Table for four?” He asks.

“No, five.” I say, not paying much attention.

“No, no, table for four. I need a dishwasher.” He laughs and points in my direction.




And when it happens, it won’t sit with you right. You feel a pang in your chest, and you’re not sure if it’s anger or sadness. You have three options: fight, flight, or—

I have saved up the $300 for the Dr. Dre headphones I want. In the Apple Store in Columbus, Ohio with my best friend and sister, we are hanging out by the headphones laughing while I survey each pair, making sure that these are the ones I want. A man—an Apple “genius”—walks up to our group and we stop laughing. He looks at me.

“I’m going to need to see your bag.” My messenger bag is hanging at my hip, latched closed.

“Why?”

“Someone said that they saw you put a pair of headphones in your bag.” My best friend throws her hands up and storms out of the store. My sister follows. I look back down at my bag, still closed and never opened while I was inside the store.

“Who?” I know I don’t have to show him the inside of the bag. I know that this mixture of fear and rage is causing my hands to shake and my heart to pound. He points behind me at the “genius” bar: they are all staring at our interaction. A blonde woman turns away. “Why would I steal a pair of headphones when I came here to buy them?”

“I need to see inside your bag—”




And when it happens, it won’t sit with you right. You feel a pang in your chest, and you’re not sure if it’s anger or sadness. You have three options: fight, flight, or—

I am in the graduate lounge at school, explaining to my friend that people of color are known to have tighter skin elasticity. I am relating this back to working at a plastic surgery center and reasons why women have labiaplasties. The white woman next to me leans across me to give her input on the subject:

“It’s because they wear all that cocoa butter,” she laughs.




And when it happens, it won’t sit with you right. You feel a pang in your chest, and you’re not sure if it’s anger or sadness. You have three options: fight, flight, or—

A white woman puts her hands on my face. One palm on each cheek. She is drunk; I am not that drunk. My eyes widen. She says: “I just want to be you.”




And when it happens, it won’t sit with you right. You feel a pang in your chest, and you’re not sure if it’s anger or sadness. You have three options: fight, flight, or—

I go to the health center for an ear infection and my doctor is an old white man from Georgia. He asks me about my background, and I tell him I’m from Ohio and he nods, before asking me about my ethnic background. I don’t really know my ethnic background, so I tell him I’m a little Creole since my dad was born in Louisiana. The doctor checks one ear for the infection I’ve already let him know I have.

“Where I’m from, we’d call you a ‘redbone.’”




And when it happens, it won’t sit with you right. You feel a pang in your chest, and you’re not sure if it’s anger or sadness. You have three options: fight, flight, or—

—sometimes you end up shrinking, deep inside yourself, and you end up lost. Who are you? Why are you here? Why don’t they believe you?

And maybe you’re wrong, maybe they’re right. They become voices in your head. Constantly criticizing you. Mocking you.

You don’t deserve to be here. You don’t know anything. You’re worthless. Everything about you screams inferiority, from the melanin in the cells of your skin to the kinks of your hair. There is a standard of beauty and intellect that you will never meet because of your breeding.

Your options are limited. Are you going to fight them all, a thousand to one, teeth bared and fists at the ready? Beast. Are you going to get in their face and scream, spit flying onto their cheeks with every consonant? Savage. Are you going to remain silent, bite your tongue and swallow back your own blood, words, and pride? Coward. Are you going to take your anger out on their loved ones? Bitch. What are you going to do? What are you going to do? The moment is disappearing—what is yo