This post is written by Kay Hinderlie, a student staff at the Women’s Center. Kay is a senior at UMBC, majoring in psychology.
Imagine it’s the first day of your semester. After locating your class, you find a seat and reach into your backpack for your class materials. You check to make sure your phone is on silent, to keep your goofy ringtone from interrupting the lecture. The class begins and you finally look up from your desk. You look around and are quick to realize the situation you’re in for the rest of the semester. In the class, everyone looks pretty similar, and you’re the only one in a wheelchair, that has kids, of a different skin color, wearing a hijab.
If you have a marginalized identity (and experienced something like the situation above), you’re probably familiar with microaggressions. They are usually a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (Merriam-Webster). By now, you might be tired of having to speak for your whole race and/or ethnicity, frustrated by the task of constantly re-explaining your pronouns, exhausted by not being taken seriously in a class as a woman in a male-dominated academic field. In these moments you may not feel comfortable with confronting the person (or people) committing these microaggressions. Speaking up could cause resentment, especially if the aggressor is in a position of power.
For me, as a queer person of color, handling microaggressions has often taken the form of de-escalating the situation in the moment, and though it’s a necessary survival skill, I forget to tend to the ways microaggressions have personally affected me. I’ve been taught how to handle microaggressions from a young age, but I’ve never been given a blueprint of how to heal and bounce back from these instances.
This brings me to the onus behind this blogpost: How can marginalized groups heal from the effects of microaggressions?
People who experience microaggressions can benefit from learning how to recover from them. Victims of microaggressions can learn to process the effects of the things said or done to them, and let go of the burden put on them by their aggressor. Though microaggressions can be broad and general, developing coping skills is a personal journey that involves individual decision making and finding what fits best for you. There’s no one way to heal from a microaggression; it looks different for everyone. One could cope using mindfulness and meditation, by journaling, reading, drawing, doing arts and crafts (links below). It’s important to find what works for you to help process microaggressions and feel good about yourself. Trying coping mechanisms is often a process of trial and error, but worth the effort.
Through learning some of my own coping mechanisms I’m more able to let go of the weight felt by microaggressions. For example, I like to watch anime when I feel overwhelmed, not only because of the drawn out fight scenes that are fun to watch, but because even though most of the anime I watch follows the “hero’s journey” archetype. The simple and predictable nature paired with the individualized character development in each story gives me a chance to take a break from overthinking. Watching anime, laughing at it, being in awe of it allows me to calm and collect my thoughts and feelings.
During the times when people may feel actively marginalized in their identities, it’s important to find an outlet to express their frustrations and disappointment. Whether facing social, psychological, or physical challenges, the burden of being marginalized in any way can be large, so it’s important to find space to release burdens and be validated and uplifted by others. These spaces can look like many things: a group of friends, family members, a therapist, forums, social media (Twitter and Tumblr are some good ones), journals, blogs etc. For the sake of your mental health, it’s important to find ways to vent and take the burden of carrying marginalized identities off of your shoulders by receiving empathy and validation from others.
Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have and share spaces specifically designated for people looking for empathy in their identity. UMBC, for example, hosts many spaces on campus where students can find a feeling of security to let out their frustrations and concerns. Places on campus include the Mosaic Center, the Pride Center, and the Women’s Center.
Regardless of where you are and what resources exist, your ability to build and maintain resilience has to be prioritized.
So it’s a new semester, you’re the only person who looks like you in the classroom. I can’t guarantee that microaggressions will happen, nor can I guarantee that they won’t. Whatever happens, I encourage you to find support. I see you. I believe you. You matter.