Microaggressions


First off, I feel so naïve about this blog I wrote in 2014:

https://what-mama-thinks.com/2014/06/27/racism/

Some aspects of it are true though. I still can not think of a single incident where I was discriminated against for being a brown woman. I guess I am just lucky. I also have closeness to white privilege being married to a white man. As race talks unfolded in recent years, especially after the tragic murder of Mr. Floyd in 2019, the protests against systemic racism over the summer of 2019 and conversations about racism in my own work place and family, I had time to analyze my personal experiences as a person of color in United States. I have experienced microaggression several times over the years, I simply did not have a name for it. The conversation where microaggression was directed at me left me with an uncomfortable feeling, a sadness and yes, a little angry. I could not pin point what it was. I was almost relieved when there was a name for it. I could say in my head, “Ah, so that is what it was! Microaggression!” A name to that kind of behavior somehow equipped me to deal with it better. Most of the microaggression that I experienced were not intended to hurt me, they generated from ignorance perhaps. And when you take out the intentionality from the words, it becomes a learning moment for the one who uttered them and teaching moment for the one who was at the receiving end of it. Of course, learning can only happen when both parties are willing to listen and speak up respectively. Once I discovered the term, I started speaking up when I encountered microaggression and people I am around on a daily basis, listened. I also self analyzed and learned what not to say to someone that might come off as microaggression. Personally, it was both a teaching moment as well as a learning moment. In my early days in this country, however, I have had aggressive comments directed at me with intentionality to make me feel bad about where I come from and the backwardness of my being because I come from a developing world. I think of those comments now. I wonder why those comments were made. Do people say them to feel superior at the cost of others or truly want to hurt others? I wonder how one feels when their words have hurt other human beings? Is it kind of a ‘high’ like sugar high? Does a ‘low’ come after?

In the blog written in 2014, I wrote I do not see color. I don’t think that is true. I have been extremely conscious of a person’s color in these days. And that has been a progression in my perception of another human being. As a newbie to this country, with only an overview of the history of slavery and white dominance in the Western world, I saw people’s color of course, but I did not comprehend the deep connotations of what experience the person had and/or continues to have due to his/her skin color. Now I am aware. Books on race, conversations, films, webinars – all have helped in raising my awareness about racial inequality.

I have read quite a few books, both fiction and non fiction, on race, inequality, microaggression over the last several months. As I said before, they all helped in my growth but one book that truly made me aware of other people’s experience because of their ‘otherness’ is Yes, I am Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy. I commend this short book to everyone who wants to know more about some experiences of the ‘other’ and examples of microaggression.

Racism


I have been asked if I faced discrimination for my color when I first arrived in this country long, long time ago. My answer has always been “no, never felt it!” I came with the naivety that in the land of the free racism is found in its past. I came with the belief that there was equality and camaraderie, solidarity and respect for all. The truth was, I was oblivious. I wasn’t aware I was being discriminated against because in India, where caste system still prevails, race was not something one worried about. The complexion mattered for aesthetic reasons(it still does), race did not. We were not segregated due to our race, we were however, segregated for caste. When I think back to some of the comments that I have received in US, with my new found sensibility of race consciousness, I believe I should have taken offense at them. I, however, incredulously pondered upon the ignorance of the person making such comments. I did not take her/him to be racist. As I said, I was naive.

I still live in a bubble. Or I like to think the world that I inhabit is full of people who do not judge me by the color of my skin, but love me for who I am as a human. I do not feel out of place among white/ black men/women because my skin is brown. I have ceased to notice skin color.

But racism exists in abundance. I discovered racism among my children’s peers. I found out it is completely acceptable for children of specific ethnicity to call each other by pejorative terms that is indicative of their race. Children of other ethnicity are not allowed. On a bus to a middle school New York trip with my daughter’s middle school, I flinched every time I heard middle schoolers of certain ethnicity calling each other with a derogatory nickname. I asked my daughter horrified. She explained it is acceptable to do that. As I see my daughter’s friends I find there is certainly a tendency for children with similar background to form a clan. That is not necessarily a negative as long as there is respect for all.

Recently, I watched a Folk tale Celebration of my Third grader, just before the culmination of his school year. As I listened to bright, energetic little voices singing this song with passion, a kaleidoscope of skin colors up there on the stage, I could not help but smile.

Some of us come from a distant land
Some of us come from nearby
But all of us carry a treasure chest
with things that gold can’t buy
And when we share our treasure chest
We all grow rich you see
The riches of our treasure chest
Are what makes you and me.

Holiday games and stories
Languages and songs
Faith and courage and wisdom
And ways to get along, and ways to get along
And when we share our treasure chest
We all grow rich you see.
The riches of our treasure chest
Are what makes you and me.

By Minnie O’Leary

If that song does not describe the essence of America, the great melting pot, then I do not know what does. We come from distant lands, we come from nearby. We all bring our treasure chests full of songs, language, cuisine, cultures and share among each other to enrich our lives, broaden our horizons and hopefully encourage acceptance and respect.

The schools in my community are doing such a terrific job of treasuring diversity. As I sat there and smiled at the enthusiastic third graders belting out this song with animated expressions, I wondered if they will carry the message of acceptance and respect for all as they grow. Will they spread that among the generation that they procreate? Will they, if necessary, teach their parents and family members, dogmatism and superiority hinder social equality and growth?

They filled me up with hope that one day racism will indeed be a thing found in history books. One day skin color will shed all its connotations and become simply what it is – color of one’s skin. Respect will usher in acceptance and solidarity. And the world will put away their guns because there will be no need to kill.

I am a dreamer, you say? Why don’t you join me? 🙂