MICROAGRESSION – a statement, action or incident regarded as an instances of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.
These often take the form of “jokes” or “compliments” therefore they usually go unnoticed or unchallenged but in reality they are hidden forms of discrimination and bias.
Growing up black in the UK I faced a lot of obvious racism as well as more hidden types of racism in the form of ‘microagressions’, this guide is to help other black and ethnic minority youth to identify and call them out.
- Lack of an attempt to correctly pronounce a person’s name – if you cannot correctly pronounce a name ask for the correct pronunciation and proceed to learn it, don’t offer to give them a nickname. If you can correctly pronounce and spell Niamh and Siobhan, then you can learn to correctly pronounce and spell the names of minorities.
- Mixing up co-workers/students of the same race – have the respect and allow people the dignity of learning their names and differentiating them from other people of the same race.
- “Wow your English is so good”– commenting on how people speak is unnecessary and suggests you see minorities as lacking the ability to communicate effectively… this is demeaning. Identify and fix this bias.
BETWEEN FRIENDS/ STRANGERS
- “You sound/ act so white” – there is no blueprint on how a person is supposed to act based on their colour or race, this can be a very harmful comment.
- “You are really pretty for a black girl”- This should be avoided as it is not a compliment, cannot put down one’s race in an attempt to praise that person.
- “Where are you REALLY from?…… where are your parents from?” – Extremely intrusive and divisive, if a person offers you where they are from but it doesn’t fit into your assumptions don’t proceed to pry further, if they decide to delve into their heritage then that is their decision.
- “Can I say the N-word?”- NO, you cannot.
- “is that your real hair?” – “can I touch it?” –There is no issue with being curious about a person’s hair but there is no need to touch it, especially those who do so without permission, it comes across as belittling and disrespectful.
- “I have always wanted mixed babies” – It’s become almost a trend to want to date black people on the basis of having mixed babies; this is not normal and is a big example of fetishization, being a mixed child isn’t only about having coloured eyes and curly hair, mixed children come in all forms and not all fit this mould.
- Commenting on a person’s skin tone or facial feature in a derogatory/ disrespectful way – describing one’s natural lips as too big or skin as too dark is firstly very racist and secondly very ill-mannered and demoralising.
- Perceiving black children as aggressive/trouble- this is a gross misconception that is placed on black youth, avoid projecting such opinions and expectations on minority youth.
- “I don’t see colour” – “we are all one race, the human race” – as endearing as this statement may be intended, it is actually a very harmful mind-set to have. You can’t be colour blind to something as obvious as race, and when you decide to do so this allows you to blind yourself to the injustices that other minorities face daily, claiming not to see a person’s identity is a lazy way of showing that you don’t choose to see their struggle.
If you are reading this as a black person or any other minority who relates to these scenarios, don’t be afraid to call this out, there is more harm in just accepting these statements and moving on, instead of correcting this behaviour. Sometimes it can be daunting to call someone out on their microaggressions, so as a solution send them this guide and allow them to correct their own actions.
And if you can identify yourself as being a perpetrator of these microaggressions then take a moment to question your bias and aim to change such behaviours as they can be very damaging and disempowering.
By Samantha Likonde