The Commonality of Microaggressions
© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Types of Microaggressions and why they need to be Identified
Racism can be defined as any prejudice or discrimination aimed at the individual(s) based on them being part of a specific racial or ethnic group, typically recognised as a minority or is marginalised. It can take place in many forms, both verbally or physically, wherein the most extreme cases can result in death. One form of racism is the action of microaggression. A microaggression is when an individual makes a verbal or behavioural action suggesting hostility, derogatory or negative attitudes towards culturally marginalised groups. They have been suggested to be the ‘new form of racism’ because often this type of racism can actually go unidentified due to it being so subtle and, usually, unintentional.
Injection created a questionnaire about racism and mental health, leading to the topic of microaggressions due to it being the most common way respondents have experienced racism. People within minority groups have the chance of experiencing racism through microaggressions every day, and it is way more common than you realise. One respondent spoke about how most of their experiences of racism come from ‘normalised’ microaggressions during childhood. It raises the concern some people in minority groups are now so used to experiencing these microaggressions because they have become ‘normalised’ within their life. Findings have shown microaggressions can come in three forms: microassault, microinsult and microinvalidation. They can be subtle to the naked eye, where it took me a while to realise I myself was subject to microaggressions dating back at school.
© Illustration by INJECTION - Chelsea Wong
In school, I was name-called. It was one of the very first experiences of racism I had ever encountered, starting at a very young age. These people would make fun of my name, where I would hate it so incredibly much. I remember telling them to stop calling me by that name, but did they stop? No, because it’s just name-calling, right? Wrong. It’s not just name calling. It’s a microaggression stated through bias and stereotypes - a microassault to be specific. What you think is miniscule, what you think is funny is actually quite harmful to the person receiving it. One of my respondents of Indian ethnicity commented how they were called a ‘curry muncher’ at the age of 12 by a group of guys. It made her feel annoyed as she didn’t understand the need for such a comment to be made. Because she was of such a young age, she did not do anything about it except tell her parents, who then reported the group of guys. This highlights how racism starts at a very young age, we in minority groups, have these experiences very young.
© Instagram post by @_unapologeticallyasian
Just two years ago, in the quiet place I grew up in which is Aberdeen in Scotland, I was racially attacked through a note. The note was clearly aimed at me - the only Asian at the time - and was placed on my friend’s car. It addressed the fact people didn’t think I belonged here due to my race, telling me to return to my home country. I wish it was that easy for me to just go and escape the racism I’ve endured. It shouldn’t have to be this way, where ever since my first encounter with racism, I have had my guard up because I sometimes feel I can’t say or do certain things without being racially abused.
© Illustration by INJECTION - Chelsea Wong
Another respondent from my questionnaire who was of Asian ethnicity pointed out how they were name-called at football matches. An experience meant to be fun, a normal activity meant to be enjoyed was tarnished by someone being racist. Racism can literally take place anywhere, any time. It is why people within minority groups have to be careful, as they are more subject to danger when just walking around freely. For the longest time, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was worried about leaving my house by myself because I was worried of what people would say to me, or do to me. The fear made it harder for me to live my life freely because I was worried about what people would say about my race, my culture, my people. It took me a long time to be comfortable again to be out by myself, without as high of a shield.
© Instagram post by @so.informed
Microinsults are verbal or non-verbal incidents of rudeness and insensitivity that demeans a person’s racial heritage or identity. Examples of this are the classic ‘You speak English very
well for a [insert ethnicity]’ or comments about how someone is not like others of their ethnicity. This includes people making fun of the food I eat because ‘it’s foreign’, ‘tastes strange’, ‘looks disgusting’. I am a Chinese person that cannot handle her spice. Because of this, I’m subject to a microinsult because as a Chinese person, I must like spicy food and I must be able to handle spicy food. Because I can’t, I’ve been called ‘white’ or ‘not a real Chinese person’. When people say stuff like this to me, it’s upsetting. I understand it’s a joke, they don’t mean it. But it degrades me as a Chinese person and labels me into a stereotype, that for some reason still exists and I cannot escape from. These people stereotype that all of us eat and like spicy food, so that is the only part of my personality that makes sense and so it is ‘wrong’ to not be part of it. The issue is actually it is wrong to make that statement in the first place. I’ve had people assume I eat dogs, I’ve had people make fun of my eye shape. It can be difficult sometimes to bring up parts of your culture I am incredibly proud of and want to share with the world, when fear of being judged gets in the way because I am ultimately different. I’ve had people talk horrifically about my traditions and culture, where I can’t mention my fondness for Hong Kong without someone mentioning the protests. I can’t talk about my people or my country without people shaming me from being connected to China. When you have such an issue with one’s country though, you are only adding to the problem.
Lastly, a microinvalidation are comments made that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts and feelings of people within minority groups. It is essentially gaslighting. An example of this is saying they ‘have friends of the same race’, so it validates they ‘aren’t being racist’. It also includes the invalidation of peoples’ feelings, saying comments like ‘I didn’t mean it like that’ or that ‘you are being too sensitive’. One respondent spoke how they experienced slurs that were being passed off as jokes. Passing it off as a joke means nothing if the joke isn’t funny and is instead harmful. Asian racism especially is usually quite invalidated because we are often told ‘we don’t have it as bad’ as other races. The fact is, there should be no comparison of racism. There is no extent to racism. Comparing types of racism experienced by different minority groups only invalidates certain groups and it is never a fair comparison. Each minority group is discriminated against in their own way, and every way is wrong and should be cared about.
© Instagram post by @thenextgenerasian
Another example of microinvalidation is mistaking people of the same race. The amount of times people have assumed my race is actually astonishing. The problem here is how they go about the assumption. If someone asked me what my ethnicity was, I would happily answer that question. If you ask me ‘where I’m from’, this is where the problem starts to arise as I was born here. This is where people then tell me they can now understand why ‘my English is so good’. I’ve had to argue countless times that just because I’m born here means very little to me when my parents are from Hong Kong and I am of Chinese descent. I identify as Chinese because that is my ethnicity and I’m proud of where I’m from. This, however, is never enough.
I can only count a few times where people have accepted what I say as it is, without having to justify something or play the ‘devil’s advocate’. When you play a devil’s advocate, it only demeans what I say or feel. It makes our feelings less than and unimportant when in reality you could be more supportive and just listen. When you are in a place of privilege to even consider being the devil’s advocate, you should take a step back and take into account why you would even consider wanting to be one. I could go on about the harm of microaggressions and the impact it has on minority groups. As one of my respondents have said, microaggressions have become ‘normalised’ to the point it is okay to speak to minorities in this way, when in fact it should be addressed and overcome. Educate yourself on microaggressions. Before you ‘say something as a joke’, before you proceed to invalidate our emotions before you make us feel inferior and hate on our race, think about what this could mean for us.