An awakening on "Microaggressions"
Since early 2021 when I became an #IamRemarkable facilitator, I've been getting more and more involved in D&I topics. Especially since D&I is getting more and more significance in the company I work for, I've been educating myself on unconscious bias, privileges and the challenges of underrepresented groups at the workplace.
One of the things I am getting aware of are the so called "microaggressions". While some of them are an easy catch, some are at times so subtle, that it can be hard to recognize them. Personally, I thought my awareness is increasing and by now I am able to avoid them. Until the following happened to me.
Last week I introduced myself to a new guy in the sports group I belong to. It was very informal, I started by saying how long I've been in the group, what brought me to the group, how I like it so far and stuff like that. At some point of the conversation, I can't remember why exactly but I told him out of the blue: "I come from Venezuela, in case you are wondering due to my accent". To which the guy replied: "No, I wasn't wondering".
I felt I needed to justify a little bit my comment, and said: "it's just that people hear the way I speak (it was a conversation in German, where my accent is much thicker than it is in English, at least I believe so). and eventually the question comes: where are you from?". The guy said: "well I am from here, and no, that's not a question I would have ever asked you. I am not like that, I really don't mind". He was looking pretty surprised and his reply felt honest. The moment felt a little bit awkward, so I changed the topic. Luckily, the trainer arrived shortly afterwards so we had to stop talking and get moving.
It was only after the class was over, and I was walking home, that I started reflecting on that experience. It was spontaneous, I didn't think about it when I said it. But the reaction of the guy made me realize, I was kind of "microaggressing" myself. Why would I even say that if I am not getting asked? I've come to the conclusion that I've just been asked so many times, that it has become somehow an instinctive reaction to proactively comment on it.
That's a common microaggression, the question "where are you really from?". I know that now, but deep in my heart I can't say I always perceived it as an aggression. Sometimes it has bothered me, sometimes it has come across as a normal/natural question and it hasn't bothered me. I guess it depends on many things how I perceive it: my mood, the context, the tone of the person asking, the surroundings, etc. It's hard to say.
My personal conclusion from this story is: it's better just not to ask. Very often the answer will appear in one context or the other, if one is still too interested in an answer. Better yet is not to care about the answer. Just like the new guy on my sports group.
For the sake of being genuinely inclusive, I think we all just need to be more mindful about this. You can never know how the person being asked will feel about that question. That's all.