I Smell BS: the Receiving End of Microaggressions

"She's Asian, but she's a pretty Asian". Translation: Most Asians aren't pretty.

"I'm tanned, but not as tanned as you", said as a joke, to a black person at work. Translation: Let's laugh at the colour of your skin.

Me, some years back: *goes into male Director's office to communicate something*. As I'm speaking, he makes a hand motion for me to speed up and get to the point. He does this to me regularly, and the other women on the team feel he is equally dismissive of their input and concerns. Translation: Hurry-up, there are men on this team whose knowledge and ideas I actually value.

Her nickname is China when she's tired, because her eyes get smaller and she looks Chinese" (followed by laughter). Translation: Let's laugh at the way Chinese people look.

“Thanks to some f—ing bat-eating, wet market animal-selling, virus-making greedy bastards, the whole world is now on hold. My message to them other than ‘thanks a f—ing lot’ is go vegan.” Translation: The traditions and practices of Chinese culture are disgusting and this pandemic is their fault because they are greedy bastards. Other than 'thanks for getting my tour cancelled' my message to them is that my dietary choices are far superior. I strongly suggest they eat like me!

These statements and actions weren't said and done by people with shaved heads, sporting swastika tattoos and with no education. They were expressed by average, everyday people, such as high-ranking colleagues, friends and well, Bryan Adams.

Since there has never been a better time to continue the conversation about inclusion, race and doing better, I thought of addressing a topic that isn't often discussed: microaggressions.

What are Microaggressions?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a microaggression is defined as a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude towards a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).

They occur in all shapes and forms of yukiness like the examples above, but they all have the same effect: victimising someone in a subtle, subliminal way. And usually without the offender even noticing.

Secret Asian 007

Almost no one can guess that I'm half-Asian, until they see a picture of my Philippino father; who is basically me + 40 years and a Hawaiian shirt. Oh, and a lot of confusing, anti-climactic stories with no punchlines in sight. 

I mostly get mistaken for Latin races and Italian. Occasionally Middle-Eastern. But rarely, if ever, part Asian.

Going through life as an "undercover" Asian, is like having this unique superpower to weed-out bigots and to be regularly disappointed in people who I thought were cool...but who turned-out not to be. Probably the lamest superpower ever, but it does make you more aware of some unfortunate realities out there. 

I've experienced overt racism, such as "I wish all Asian races would cease to exist" comments; and I've been subjected many times to the gross and pompous let's-laugh-at-other-races-while-we-can't-take-any-jokes-about-ourselves vibe. 

There's more to the story but the gist is I've been on the receiving end of these comments that were made in degrading contexts and I felt hurt and ostracised. It kind of feels like someone throwing a warm, poopy diaper off the balcony of a high-rise apartment, that lands front-and-centre on your face. It's nasty, angering, undeserved, but oh well...what choice do you have other than to DEAL WITH IT?!

Adding insult to injury is when you summon up enough courage to be like "yo, that wasn't cool" and it is quickly dismissed with "but it was just a joke".

I can only IMAGINE what black people, Indigenous people, LGBTTQ people, women in male-dominated fields, etc. experience. Probably on a daily basis too! My experiences affected me and they are not even a fraction of what others have to go through.

Navigating a World of Flying Crap

So, back to my poopy diaper analogy (I never said I was good at analogies). What I don't think people realize is the stressful position that certain "innocent" and well-meaning (I guess?) comments, can put the recipient in.

Here is what microaggressions, or dropping a bomb (pun intended) on someone, can force them to have to deal with.

Okay so you're walking down the street and all of a sudden, a poopy diaper thrown from the balcony of a high rise apartment lands on your face. You can't see exactly which balcony it came from and you have nothing on you to clean-up with.

Do you:

1- head straight home, clean-up, possibly throw-up, and never speak about it again (just secretly deal with the anger, humiliation and shame. Also, wait- why are you feeling shame when you didn't do anything wrong? You don't know, but you just do...)

2- head home, clean-up, look-up the contact for the Superintendent of the building and report the incident (a lot of work, when you just want to forget about it and do other things)

3- head into the building to try and find the culprit (risk facing people in lobby and elevator with shit all over your face, getting stares and awkwardness. Plus, what would you say really?) 

4- head into the building and try to find the Superintendent to report the incident (same issues as point above, risk making a scene)

5- go home, clean-up and call a friend or someone who can listen to you vent (but then what if they laugh or dismiss it and you end up more angry?)

6- go home, clean-up and give yourself time to think about what to do (though there's a chance you will just move onto something else and never do anything but wonder if you should have done something).  

7- consider it a one-off, remind yourself that "shit happens", go home, clean-up and laugh it off...(people can be ignorant and I'm sure they didn't mean to do that. What if it was a toddler who threw it? But can a toddler throw that strongly? Also, you don't want to make a big deal out of something that was an accident, right?)

8- deal with it by not dealing with it. Similar to #6, but you're simply too tired to even consider your options. You have cleaned-up physically but being already exhausted from work and life, you let this one go (besides, it would have been worse if you did something and no one cared, or if the Superintendent never got back to you, etc. You would be wasting more time on this)

So pick whichever one.

Now, imagine a couple of weeks later, you are walking home and get ANOTHER poopy diaper in your face, from the balcony of a different high-rise apartment. What the heck is going on?! Now you're fuming. Ready? Annnnnnnd....cycle trough options 1-8 all freakin' over again. Oh, and a passerby just saw you and your angry, poopy face and said you're being too sensitive about what just happened. It's life, just deal with it. Sigh. Dealing with these poopy diapers feels like a full-time job.

"Too Sensitive" is Too Subjective 

There are definitely times when political correctness feels like it defies logic and common sense. I shared an article on social media a while back about how the word "pet" to refer to our domesticated animals is derogatory somehow. Um, 1- pets don't know they are pets. I'm willing to bet that you can't hurt their feelings with this. And 2- if what you get from being called a pet is the life that my bichon frise has, I'll take it! That's an example of "too sensitive" that I think most people can agree on.

Then, there is context and case-by-case scenarios.

There are countless instances of jokes about my race or Asians in general that never offended me. The context was different. I also have friends who have groups of friends with different ethnic backgrounds, that actively tease each-other using racial slurs and stereotypes. I'm told the vibe is light and it's playful banter between EVERYONE, so no one feels singled-out or degraded. "To each their own", in those cases, as it would definitely offend some.

I think the bigger issue is when people call someone "too sensitive", when they are unaware of the underlying issues of race, misogyny, homophobia, history, personal experiences, etc. that led a person to feel the way they do. There is often too much to consider before deciding that someone is too sensitive, and simply brushing them and their feelings off.

Basically, if you've never had poopy diapers thrown in your face all your life, then you have no business telling someone that they are over-reacting to this new poopy diaper in their face. You don't know just how many poopy diapers they have had to deal with.

The "Too Sensitive" Cop Out

And then there are times when "too sensitive" translates to: I'm an ignorant shithead and I'm happy being that way, so can you please change YOU so I don't have to change me? It's a form of intellectual laziness. Being sensitive to others often means educating oneself about the weight, history and ramifications of certain words and actions. Why do all that when you can just be a pompous ass and say what you want, when you want?

I once worked under a boss from actual hell, whose team was a revolving door of staff because no one could handle him. He got away with it for years, despite several complaints going to Management and higher. Why? I remember the Director once saying "he's just old-school". They deemed him as harmless and "old-school" so they didn't have to deal with him. Meanwhile, he did things like put his hand on my stomach and ask: "is there a baby in there, yet? You and your husband should be making love every day!" This was the same man who said "I have to be careful with you, you're so sensitive!" Right....I was the problem. Me and the dozens of people before me.

The Bottom Line

Microaggressions are like a constant onslaught of slights and underhanded insults that can have a very damaging and cumulative effect on its victims. I have no doubt that some people experience it so often, that it just becomes their status quo. 

If you are lucky enough to go through life without having to regularly dodge flying diapers, to pick your battles when you are victimised, to decide what to do this time, to educate and explain your ass off about why something is hurtful to you etc., etc., etc...then at the very least BE sensitive to others and the fact that there might be a good reason why they feel the way they do about an "innocent" comment or joke.

One might call it being "too sensitive"...I call it for what it is: bullshit.



















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