RACIAL MICROAGGRESSIONS PART 2.

racism Feb 28, 2021

This is part two of our conversation about racial microaggressions. You can read part one here.

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Whenever we approach the topic of racism, we must always take a multi-layered approach.

At one level, we must discuss the ways in which we can identify and remove the big, systemic structures that uphold racist beliefs and ideas.

And at another level, we must also discuss the ways in which we can not only cope with the reality of living in a world where racist encounters occur frequently, but that we can navigate and thrive in this environment on a day-to-day basis.

Conversations that focus solely on one level without acknowledging the need for the other can either leave us feeling overwhelmed and exacerbated (eg. how can I, one individual, dismantle white supremacy?) or, perpetuates the idea that the only work that needs to be done is ours alone (eg. I need to get "better" at dealing with racism).

This blog post here talks about this second level; of thinking creatively about how we can thrive in our day to day existence as people of colour. However, we must always remember that what we talk about today, is framed within the context of also working towards creating a more hopeful and inspiring future.

BEING ABLE TO TELL YOUR STORY.

Having worked in the developmental trauma context, I’ve come to understand the importance of being able to clearly communicate your experience, either to another human or through some kind of creative form.

It's important firstly because human beings are social creatures who actually need feedback from others to feel safe, grounded and even complete. It’s also important because the memories of experiences like racial microaggressions, often stay in our bodies until we find a way to process them out. And when memory after memory stacks up, studies have found that we can either start to form cultural mistrust (distrusting the dominant race) or we can much more easily become triggered and reactive to different situations and conversations.

However the interesting thing here is that racial microaggressions are often really hard to communicate clearly to others. The subtle interactions, the nuances in the conversations, the easy to miss look or gesture, they're called "micro"-aggressions for a reason and it's this very "micro" nature that makes it hard to pinpoint and articulate clearly.

BUT MICROAGGRESSIONS ARE HARD TO TALK ABOUT.

To illustrate this a little further, a few months ago, a friend of mine messaged me saying that someone had yelled something racist at her on the street. Straight away, I could picture what had happened, and how she had been impacted and because of that, I was able to provide validation to her experience.

While on the other hand, stories of racial microaggressions often sound like, “…he just looked at me funny” or “they said it in a rude way…” and often, there are no racial slurs or derogatory language used in the interaction. This can leave space in the conversation for the person listening to you to say things like, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that!” and “are you sure that was them being racist?”

As well-meaning as these kinds of interactions are, they can leave us with even more doubt and uncertainty about our experiences and perpetuate us feeling alone in our experiences.

This then, leaves us with the work of being able to somehow craft a communication strategy, or let’s call it a story, to clearly articulate our feelings to another so that they can provide us with the validation and witnessing that we need as human beings.

BUILD YOUR STORY.

This is the very short format that I use to explore anything difficult or hard to pinpoint experiences in my life. It’s a method that’s commonly used in therapeutic debriefing and I’ve found that it is incredibly helpful both in my work as well as in my personal life.

Using this format helps me to formulate a clear and simple story which is then a tool that I can use to convey my experiences to someone I trust.

The format is:

  1.  Write down what happened.
    1. Stick to the objective facts, so don’t use any adjectives here.

Eg. I was at a team meeting where everyone was joyfully commenting on how well the organisation was doing “culturally responsive practice”, when in reality, we had lost many people of colour in our service delivery. I didn't stop the conversation with my comments that indicated otherwise.

  1. Write down how you felt.
    1. Perhaps use dot points here so you don’t get stuck on the sentence structure. Instead focus your energy in to really getting creative and specific with your language (you can use an emotions wheel like this as a starting point)
    2. You don’t need to limit this to emotions, but think about how you felt physically as well
    3. You might also find that English words aren't enough, think more broadly and perhaps use language from your ancestry if that's something that feels right for you.

Eg. I felt ignored, irrelevant, concerned, disgusted, embarrassed, resigned and sick and tired.

  1. Write down how this relates to other things in your life or in the systemic context of your life.
    1. What stereotype or narrative is being perpetuated?
    2. What are the other stories that are being pulled back into your memory because of this?
    3. What do you think impacted your reaction?

Eg. The narrative of helping professions not being aware of the Eurocentric frameworks they work by and within, is being perpetuated. I’m reminded of how dominant the presence of white people is in the non-profit space and that this lack of diverse representation further perpetuates the idea that white people “help” people of colour, when in fact they are often recreating colonisation-like structures. A story that's coming up for me is that no one is listening to me because I'm a woman of colour. I know that I didn’t say anything in the moment because I was the only person of colour at the event and I felt unsafe and incapable of being able to answer questions or to deflect people asking me for a solution right then and there.

Step 3 is always the difficult step, but it’s this one that helps you to connect a small, careless comment into the broader existence of being Asian Australian, so it's an important step. Someone saying something a little uncomfortable in an off-handed manner is not the problem, it's the way that it links in with the broader power dynamics that exist, that is what often really hurts.

HELP OTHERS TO UNDERSTAND YOU.

I find this format super helpful especially because I’m the kind of person that expresses things like “it was just so uggghhh you know?” and “I just hate them so much!”. These kinds of comments make it really hard for others to see and hear my story and all they can respond to is a ball of frustration and activation... which then leaves them wanting to try and calm me down, rather than trying to understand the story further.

Being able to clearly state my story by outlining the objective facts, how the experience impacted me and then linking this in with the broader context, allows for me to be seen and heard, and it’s this that helps me to feel okay. It’s this that helps me to heal from experiences of racial microaggressions.

FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO TALK TO.

It's important to add here that even though you might now have a greater ability to communicate your story to others, not everyone is worthy of hearing your story.

For many, many years of my life, I turned to music and visual art to communicate my experiences because I didn't feel like I had anyone safe tell. These creative mediums can be a really powerful way to slowly explore bringing language to your experiences, and especially so if this concept is quite new to you, or if you know that the people around you might not be able to support you in the way that you need.

But as you slowly start to feel ready to receive validation from others, know that we are in the process of creating a strong community through the Shapes and Sounds Club. 

This will be a space where you'll not only be at the forefront of conversations about Asian Australian mental health, but you'll find yourself in the presence of Asian Australians who are right there with you in both the difficult stuff and in the envisioning of a more inspiring future.

If this sounds interesting to you, make sure you add your name to the waiting list below and we'll be in touch soon.

“do not look for healing
at the feet of those
who broke you”
― Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey

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