Microaggression is an attitude of silent aggression, apathy, hate, discrimination towards minority or lesser represented communities. These silent acts are mostly non-verbal; talking in a different language to exclude people of a certain minority; ridiculing people with an accent; never acknowledging the success of people of colour. It is also verbal in the form of racial insults, culturally biased comments, and derogatory comments about citizenship and nationality.
Microaggressions are like dementors, from the Harry Potter series, they suck away the happiness, ambition and zeal to succeed, from the people of colour and minority. This silent killer leaves them with no other option than to perish silently, never raising a voice or even trying to make a difference. In fact, it is such a silent killer that it has become an accepted norm across the world to call it ‘systemic racism’ and completely ignore the root cause. Unfortunately and dangerously the attitude currently is, “yes it exists, deal with it”!
Being a woman, and a woman of colour I have learnt to recognise microaggressions. Here are a few types of microaggressions that I have experienced.
Gender biased microaggressions: Professional development is always prioritised for men as “they need it more”, this is a classic case of silent gender-biased microaggression. Another classic example is the office dress code that mandates the length of the skirt, type of shoe, ‘no spaghetti tops’ etc only for women. While for any other gender it is limited to ‘dress formally’. Women are labelled desperate, needy and narcissists if they post about themselves or their achievements on social media, but men are rewarded with words like great communicator, successful, positive networker and very active on social media. The same act has different connotations for different genders.
Culturally biased microaggressions: People of colour or minority are often asked this question, “How long have you lived abroad?” This clearly indicates the presumption that people of colour or of different religion do not or cannot belong to the same country as they look different or have different beliefs. Recruiting people of colour in international organisations is still a distant dream, even further away is the reality of having leaders of colour. I say this as microaggressions throttle the very desire, right at the beginning, they snatch away the pleasure of having ambitions and dreams and leave people of colour or minority with no desire to compete.
Racially biased microaggression: When a racially different person enters a public space, they are always asked for an ID. There is an assumption that people of a different race can be criminals or have an ulterior purpose to be in public space. Recent episodes of racially biased xenophobia is a very good example of underlying microaggressions. In the most developed countries of the world, we saw Asians being attacked, black lives being taken away, foreigners being segregated, children being alienated and yet we keep quiet. All of this is happening openly and the perpetrators are finding ways to exhibit their microaggressions violently under the pretext of nationalism and economic stability.
I consider microaggressions the most crucial link in the fight against inequality and discrimination. It is the very root of all issues in the world. As educators, we have to eliminate the root cause. We need to teach our students to avoid microaggressions. As educators, we can check for microaggressions and nip it in the bud.
Educators themselves have to audit their microaggressions, do not preach or practice bias. For example, I remember a teacher refusing to participate in Remembrance Day as it is a western tradition; a Head of School making a remark that Indian sweets will ensure a visit to the dentist; a PE teacher forcing a student to swim during Ramadaan. We need to face our insecurities and biases so that we do not make the mistake of harbouring microaggressions and passing them on to the youth. They will model what they witness.
Educate students to check for microaggressions and reduce them. Discourage bias, encourage brevity to stand up against bias. The trauma students endure due to the segregation by nationality intentionally or unintentionally needs to be checked as it further manifests into racism and apathy.
Overall, there are many ways to reduce microaggressions; the difference lies in the intent. The lack of intent is the most dominant problem and this needs to change. Remember there is nothing micro about microaggressions.