Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. (Rivera & Sue, 2010)
Many times, students at Penn downplay the microaggressions and that occur our campus and the impact that it has on our lives. In the process marginalized communities, including people of color and women, have their voices invalidated. The Theta Chapter of alpha Kappa Delta Phi wants to raise awareness for the fact that this racism, whether intentional or unintentional, still exists on Penn's campus. And through "It's 2018, Penn", we hope to create a space for these stories and voices to be heard and supported—especially as we experiences these very things ourselves as a community of Asian American women.
We want to let Penn know that it’s 2018, this should not be happening, and yet it is.
If you would like to share your story, feel free to send an email to email@example.com or tag #its2018Penn on social media!
I don’t think I’ve had a chance to truly confront the nuances, dimensions, and intersectionality of my identity until coming to Penn. That’s mostly because growing up, there were many things about my identity that I chose to hide. I recognize now that a box has been opened; it’s been scary and confusing, but also liberating. I don’t foresee myself closing it.
--Why does it scare me to talk about my identity? Why do I perpetually think that I’m never American enough or Chinese enough? Why do I sometimes think that my experiences aren’t important, that I shouldn’t feel the way I feel? Why am I plagued with the guilt of “living up to expectations”? Why does it sometimes feel like I have to fit neatly within a certain mold? I think many of these questions that I have been grappling with since coming to Penn highlight a slow accumulation of microaggressions that I’ve been experiencing but unconsciously suppressing since childhood. It has likely been a contributor to my social anxiety and to my imposter syndrome.
Microaggression is prevalent even in places like Penn. I distinctly remember an instance where a white adult approached me on campus and immediately began speaking to me in Mandarin Chinese, as they were trying to “find someone native to practice with”. (Albeit, I entertained the idea and nodded along, even though I don’t actually speak Mandarin and had only taken all of 1 semester of beginner Chinese.) After a few minutes, they were surprised and a bit disappointed to learn that I couldn’t completely understand what they were trying to say or correct any of their tones, but they complimented me on my English. I didn’t think too much of the experience at the time, but I still remember feeling super disappointed with myself. Looking back at it now, I find this experience discrediting and alienating, and once again, I was caught between my American identity and my Chinese identity. Needless to say, I’m still struggling with this.
As often as we are trained to see the positive, microaggression (intentional or unintentional) and its impact are not something we can ignore or downplay. I can be the first to admit that I’m not perfect and that I’m sure I’ve said things that have unintentionally offended and insulted people. I can also be the one to tell you how hard I think it is to aptly navigate Penn (and the world) given the many layers of diversity and many lessons about people and their identities and about myself and my identity that I have yet to learn. But here’s our chance! Now that I understand more about microaggression, I also understand that our goal is to educate, not to intimidate. I see in acts of microaggression, the opportunity to educate and to be educated. And this can be a much bigger and broader conversation.
When we talk about microaggression, we can’t ignore why and where they stem from.
Microaggression is deep rooted and illuminates historical marginalization and systemic injustice. They are subtle, but they contribute to larger structural problems in our society. Recognizing that the persistence of discrimination and bias is sustained through microaggression tells me that a lot is at stake. We get to see the world as it is constituted for us by our ability to communicate what we think, feel, and say.
""Are you mad because I'm wearing an American flag?"
"You're ____(loud//aggressive//sassy)____ for an Asian girl."
I feel like every time I'm told something like this, I get angry, but forget about it. But we shouldn't forget. Statements like these only highlight the underlying discrimination people have, without even knowing. I'm literally American; I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I don't know why the way I look should make anyone think differently. I don't know why being an Asian girl should mean I have to act a certain way for be "normal." These "little" things place marginalized and underrepresented communities under unfair pressure.
Microaggressions at Penn happen all the time. I remember being astonished that at a place like this, someone could question my identity and make me feel like I don't belong. I'm sure we all make mistakes, but we have to make an active effort to stop. I don't deserve to be seen as an outsider or different in my own home. Let's take time to educate each other.
Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions in the realm of implicit bias is that positive stereotypes expressed through microaggressions are permissible because “it’s not like they do you any harm.”
But regardless of the positive or negative intention behind a microaggression, it still is just that.
You can call me beautiful or muscular or politically involved “for an Asian girl,” but a compliment is not a compliment when you qualify it as if I am inherently subpar to you and those like you.
It’s not a compliment, but a discrediting of me and all that I am outside of my race — an imposition. An imposition of Eurocentric standards as evaluation of whether I and others like me are “American enough,” “white enough”—
By imposing your presumptions on me through microaggressions, you have taken away my choice in presenting myself to you in the most holistic way—not as Asian, not as a woman, but as Lucy Ma.
Microaggressions pervade our language and our culture, but we CAN stopper their effects through cross-cultural dialogue and empathy and open-mindedness.
Time and time again, my Uber driver tries to engage in small talk and that will inevitably lead to the question, “Where are you from?” I would always respond back with Philadelphia, daring them to follow up with the “Where are you REALLY from?” More often than not, they do. I grit my teeth as I respond back, “My parents are from China.” Oblivious to my annoyance, they continue on with the conversation.
No, I’m not interested in your story of the last Chinese passenger you had. No, I don’t know her even if you tell me her name. No, my Asian friend next to me is not my sister. It’s not okay to be ignorant. It’s not okay to make racist or derogatory comments, no matter how “micro” it is.
Even though it’s 2018, microaggressions are still such pervasive notions, and now is not the time to downplay or ignore these stories. It’s time to do better.
Sometimes, being an Asian-American woman at Penn feels like I'm walking on a tightrope or on a very thin, almost nonexistent, patch of ice. sometimes, I'm not sure if something I say or something I do will elicit a comment that will just throw me slightly off balance. It means that something as simple as trying to find a subletter for the summer reminds of the fetishization of Asian bodies with a couple messages on "if I'm Chinese," and how "Chinese girls are beautiful," or knowing that navigating an all-white, all-male workspace will inevitably result in unintentionally borderline racist and discriminatory comments about my race, gender, and ultimately, the skills, interests, and abilities that I'm expected to have.
But, I'm smiling though. because I believe in the incredible diversity and support of this campus. So many communities and spaces on the very same campus have empowered me and strengthened my commitment to Asian awareness and activism (s/o to aKDPhi, APALI, PAACH, and people like Stephanie Dixon and so, so many others)
Most importantly, I have so much faith in the students here and our ability to make a lasting change on campus culture.
Once, when I was talking to a recruiter outside of an event, he mentioned to me off-handedly that his company tended to avoid hiring females and minorities. They didn’t want to hire female employees due to having to “inevitably accommodate for maternity leave,” and they didn’t like hiring minorities because they feared that there would be a language and cultural barrier between that individual and the rest of the company. However, he reassured me that that “although I was an Asian female, I spoke English with an American accent,” so he wouldn’t have any qualms about hiring me.
Following this conversation, I immediately withdrew my application.
“You’re Filipino?! But you’re so pale!”
“Hey, at least you don’t look THAT Chinese.”
“You’re an international student? You don’t have an accent though.”
“You can’t speak Tagalog? Didn’t you grow up in Manila?”
Language and cultures were never my strongest areas of learning; I’ve always had a passion in literature and science instead. Although I am oftentimes regretful about how little I immersed myself in Filipino culture as a child, that doesn’t change the fact that my passport is Filipino. That doesn’t change the fact that I proudly identify as Filipino-Chinese, and that I call the Philippines my home. That doesn’t change the fact that I am disadvantaged as an Asian woman in a society that often touts equality amongst its people.
It’s a sad reality that micro-aggressions are still largely prevalent on campus, but it’s a reality so many students face every day—even though it’s already 2018.
It's honestly shocking to me that people still ask "Where are you from? No. Where are you really from?" As an Asian-American, my hometown is Philly, and not anywhere else. Some people will even ask, "No I mean where are your parents from?"
Just because I am Asian, does not mean I'm from a foreign country. Also, what difference would it make if you found out I was from a foreign country? Microaggressions on campus are still so prominent yet many fail to address them. Its 2018 already, this needs to stop.
Unconscious or conscious, unintentional or not, micro aggressions are something I experience on a day to day basis. Just because I'm Japanese, does not mean the only thing we can talk about is "that one time you visited Japan/Tokyo/any Asian country for like a week and how amazing it was" I don't need to hear from you "how much you love Tokyo" There is more to me than just my ethnicity and although I love Japan as well, it is not even where I grew up!
Please don't categorize me and say things based on my appearance, ethnicity, or gender. Just because I am Japanese/Asian, I don't need to hear that because I am direct and not afraid to say my opinion straightforwardly is "interesting" or "unexpected" due to my "culture"
Penn, know that these things are happening on our campus even though it’s 2018. Now is not the time to ignore these stories. Now is not the time to say “that isn’t me”. Now is the time to do better.
I look like I'm about to burst out laughing in this photo but you know what else is laughable? Microaggressions on our campus (and beyond), is a larger issue than it seems. For some, it may be the stereotypes about gender norms, for others, feeling like they don't belong because of the color of their skin, etc, etc. Most microagressions (while unintentional) do impact the recipient whether consciously or not. For me, one of the most common phrases that I hear as an Asian-American is where are you from?
Something that I've heard a lot since coming to Penn, is that I'm the first Japanese person that they met, or that they don't meet many other Japanese people from their hometown. It's interesting because (1) I'm Chinese too guys!! and (2) though I enjoy telling people my background, this question always makes we wonder: what do people actually want to know? Do you want to know that I'm from California? Or do you want to know about my ethnic background? While it's great telling people about my background, there's always an inking of doubt of whether I fully belong here in America(!!), my home(!!)
The assumption that I would speak another language is another one that often comes up, and while I do (somewhat), I feel slightly shamed when they find out I'm not fluent which does sting!! but shouldn't!! because why should I be expected to speak multiple language because of how!! I!! look!! like!!
Another one for the books: people ask why I don't go by my middle name(!!) when they hear it(!!) (https://parade.com/275241/viannguyen/immigrants-who-americanized-their-names-earned-14-percent-more-study-says/) :'(
In regards to female expectations: long hair!! submissive!! not in stem!! pls!! (you name it)
While I'd rather take a paper cut a day (small, constant pain) or a knife stab to the chest(death), I can't say that I'd enjoy either!! Why should anyone be settling for less than they deserve!!
ON the other hand I am lucky to have people all around me who👏support👏me 👏and👏reassure👏me!!