Microaggressions in the Workplace

When I was younger, I used to get this feeling sometimes that I couldn’t describe. It was like a combination of irritation, anxiety, and anger but at that age, my vocabulary was quite limited. So, I decided to call it “blue.” The color blue was what popped up in my mind when I felt this feeling or when I was revisiting a situation that caused that feeling. At that age, I couldn’t explain why I felt that feeling, it would just pop up without my control when someone said something that irked me. As I grew up, I realized that I felt “blue” when people said something about my identity that I perceived as a misconstrued stereotype or an invalidation of my struggle, but they viewed it as a passive comment. This realization came at a cost. It made me hyper-aware of the microaggressions I was experiencing and had experienced. What followed that feeling was an inner monologue of whether I should react or respond. Will it be worth it? What if I was overthinking it? If no one else said anything maybe I’m just making a big deal? Will there be repercussions? I don’t want to be “that girl.” This “blue” feeling never went away, and in fact, the inner monologue has only become more complex in my role as a grad student. 

Since the beginning of my graduate studies, I have experienced and witnessed more microaggressions than I could write in this blog post. In many instances, the microaggressions came from a place of good intent and got lost in translation; however, some of these instances were rooted in ignorance. After every single one of these microaggressions, my inner monologue followed suit. What amplified this inner monologue was the silence of my predominantly white peers. Perhaps some of them had their own inner monologue–debate on whether they should speak up for me and other students of color and maybe they recognized what the student/professor/staff worker had said was problematic.  In most situations, it would be silence. The silence transformed my “blue” feeling to loneliness more than anything. Occasionally people who witnessed the microaggression would take the time to validate my response one-on-one, but continue to stay silent in other instances. 

I understand that sometimes people feel as though it is not “their place” to say something. What if they say the wrong thing? How do you really be an “ally?” Realistically, I do not know the answer to this question and in fact, I reckon it varies from person to person. For me, having someone back me up is what I wanted in those situations. Standing alone made me feel like I was jeopardizing my relationship with my peers and professors. These were the individuals I was going to take courses with and work with for the next five years. In fact, I could be in a situation where I would require a letter of recommendation from one of my professors and I didn’t want to “stain” my image with a portrait of an “angry woman.” But if I didn’t say something, then I too was being complicit in their behavior, which could be replicated for other students. As a graduate student, I have a platform that other undergraduates do not. To some extent, it is my responsibility to call out my peers so underrepresented undergraduates do not have to face those circumstances. However, on the other hand, it feels unjust that I have to relieve moments of trauma for the benefit of another person. I haven’t been able to solve this conundrum yet and I doubt I will be able to. However, I can at the very least begin to vocalize my experience and that’s what I am doing now. 

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