This is an important day and my post is a bit longer than usual. I ask you to read, to comment, and to share.
I would love to tell you that life is perfect for me. I would also love to tell you that I haven’t wondered what my life would be like as a man, especially while I have been here in patriarchal India. Unfortunately, I could not escape my gender even if it were possible. In America, even before our calamitous election broke open the seal that kept the overt racism and nationalism under a flowing canopy, I knew my gender was an issue for some. More importantly, it seemed my race and color were even more offensive to others.
As a professional disaster and crisis manager, there have been numerous occasions where my competence and ability were overlooked, ignored, disregarded, or questioned in underhanded and covert ways. I have been asked what happened to my Indian accent or where did I learn such good English. When I tell people that I am an Army Veteran, they ask me if I meant the Indian Army. I haven’t been asked what tribe I belong to or where my dot is in a very long time but they have asked how I could have served as a soldier with just a green card. These are some of the more minor things, relatively speaking, of course. Unfortunately, last year, I experienced some of the worst discrimination of my life and it made me angry. To be clear, I am still angry about it today but I am choosing to do something positive rather than just stewing in the anger. Until March of 2016, I had no idea this kind of behavior had an official name – Racial Microaggressions.
When I realized there was an official name for this behavior and researchers like Dr. Derald Wing Sue have been writing about this for years, I was astonished. I had spent a great deal of time wondering if I was too sensitive or misconstruing any of these situations. The first article I read was one Dr. Sue wrote in 2007 but I was reading it in 2016.[i] None of what happened was my imagination – it was real – and now I had research to point to as proof. Although I was ecstatic about this validation, I realized that identifying microaggressive behavior or discussing any kind of racial or gender discrimination would make me vulnerable to further labeling by my colleagues. My fear proved to be correct in some cases and I was told by a few of my white colleagues that there was no race issue and I was just “overthinking” matters and being “too sensitive”. I started wondering if I was like the proverbial hammer that thinks everything is a nail. Then I had an epiphany. This is exactly what racial microaggressive behavior does to a person. You doubt yourself. No more of that for me.
Another way to think about these slights is to recall times when someone was accused of playing the race card. How did you feel about it? Did you automatically side with one person or another? The danger here is in assuming every white person is a racist or that every black or brown person is angry or militant. I am writing about racial microaggressions on International Women’s Day because others regularly minimize my perspectives and experiences and I do not want to live a life where I cannot speak up for myself or others. Rather than engaging in destructive or violent ways, I would rather approach this issue through education and awareness. No matter the reason for the behavior, I must remind myself that I am a sentient being with education and experience. I am capable of recognizing discrimination, both direct or indirect. More importantly, I can educate others about racial microaggressions or microaggressive behavior.
It might seem that on International Women’s Day 2017, I should be writing about reproductive freedom, gender-based violence, or societal acceptance of domestic violence or marital rape. I regularly advocate for better laws and societal attitudes for the aforementioned issues but today, I want to focus on speaking the truth about what we experience in our lives in our respective genders and colors. Many routinely experience this but it takes courage to stand up for ourselves and to acknowledge the discrimination around us. As we spend our days supporting the causes near and dear to us, we should recognize microaggressive behavior when it is used to minimize us or our efforts. We should learn more about this, so we can help make the world a better place and #BeBoldForChange.
[i]Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (May-June 2007). Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life Implications for Clinical Practice. American Psychologist, 271-286.