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Microaggressions: The Daily “Compliments” for Minorities

I’m a product of my environment, and my environment always makes me question my reality. Was I being overly sensitive or emotional? 

I’ve experienced racial and religious slurs such as being called a “paki” or a “terrorist” at only 9 years old. Those are horrible and derogatory terms, and of course anyone being on the receiving end will be offended by them. However, microaggressions are much more subtle, therefore much harder to address because it isn’t as obvious. “It is an insult wrapped up in a compliment.” 

But those backhanded compliments are – simply put – awful. I remember getting this unsettling feeling in my stomach. I was sitting in a room full of people where this person was purposely mispronouncing religious words. They found humour in butchering them. I felt paralyzed, and unable to be confrontational despite every fiber of my being screaming, “Say something! Do anything!” I wasn’t sure if anyone else in the room shared those same feelings as me. Or, if they heard the same thing as what I did. The worst part about this situation is that when I finally grew the courage to address it, my feelings and voice were dismissed by this one recurring statement, “It’s just a joke.” I didn’t know how to tell this person that mimicking someone’s culture or religion and using it as a punchline is not okay. It’s a form of racism.

These off-hand comments, or “jokes” made at the expense of a cultural identity are microaggressions. I’m a victim of microaggressions along with others belonging to minority groups. The discomfort I’m describing is the everyday occurrence of a victim of microaggression. Only in the last couple of months did I realize that microaggression is the label that captures that discomfort and doubt that arises every time someone asks, “Where are you from?”. When I understood that, I felt as though a light bulb lit up. “All these years because of these microaggressions, I felt alienated, excluded, invalidated, repeatedly. Discomfort is an understatement, microaggressions are dehumanizing. They don’t just hurt your feelings, they go much far deeper than that. You’re put in a box based on what people perceive of you and they can’t seem to perceive you in any other way.

Microaggressions are built within our society, – from the color of Band-Aids to job opportunities, and beyond – and it has been happening since the beginning of time. My discomfort and anger were (and are) valid, but then why can’t anyone hear people like me? As a woman of color, it’s difficult to get your voice heard because the structures, systems, or simply individuals more prone to pass on microaggressions are part of the privileged groups in society. 

The solution to this issue is to keep educating, by writing, having discussions and reading about it. Having those who go through these experiences at the center stage of the conversations is crucial for any change to materialize. Now that we know about microaggressions and what they are, it’s time for us to speak up because our feelings are valid. And for those who never questioned whether they are passing on microaggressions, start off by not dismissing other people when they tell you that you’re wrong, instead get informed and try to understand why.

About the author:

Afiyat Jahan is a fourth-year marketing major and Co-President of The John Molson Marketing Association at Concordia University. She’s always been passionate about expressing herself through writing and speech. As a south Asian Muslim woman living in Québec, she knows the impact of systemic racism and believes it’s important to talk about it by including the voices that really matter.