Article by Kamilla Jamal

Despite thousands of years of civilization, sexism still plagues us, racism still haunts us, and homosexuality still scares us. But none of these can be true about us, at an international and diverse school like ISM, right?

While your first instinct might be to say, “No, my non-denominational, co-educational, private international school most certainly does NOT have any sort of discrimination,” the shocking reality is that we are still unconscious contributors to identity-based discrimination. Although it may not be the ‘punching-little-kids-into-lockers’ sort, we do let microaggressions slip into our daily interactions. Microaggressions refer to “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” (Psychology Today).

Still confused? Here are some common examples you may have encountered or said yourself:

  1. “You’re really pretty….for a black person”
  2. “Can you see as much as white people? You know, because of your eyes…?”
  3. “If you’re from Africa….why are you white?”
  4. “You take physics? I didn’t think girls would be into hard subjects like that.”
  5. “You’re so fluent in English for an Asian!”
  6. “You don’t sound black!”
  7. “Can you be my gay best friend?”

Sometimes microaggressions can also be disguised as compliments like “Of course you’re good at math because you’re Korean!” While we may say this innocuously, it is important for us to realize that such ‘compliments’ invalidate an individual’s own contribution to his or her success and instead attributes it to his or her ethnicity. Just as little drops of water make the mighty ocean, microaggressions on the whole also culminate in warped and discriminatory societal attitudes.

That said, note the following the next time you engage in conversation with someone else:

  1. NEVER ask someone “What are you?” because of his or her seemingly different or mixed ethnicity. Nobody is an object defined by his/her ethnicity alone.
  2. DO NOT assume that because someone looks like they belong to a certain race, they will understand you when you begin communicating with them through what you think might be their ‘native’ language.
  3. NEVER base your insults off of other groups of people. Such insults indefensibly correlate negative qualities with different groups of people and suggest that the worst thing a person can do is to belong to a certain gender or have a different sexual orientation.
  4. DO appreciate and take the time to ask someone about their cultural heritage and their experiences.
  5. STOP trying to categorize people into neat and tidy stereotypes. Our complexity and diversity transcend our limiting and hurtful categories.

If you believe that following up on these rules will make you a ‘party pooper’, it may be better to consider a change in parties because it is our responsibility to ensure an atmosphere that is conducive to everybody’s growth regardless of identity. While it seems impossible to eradicate discrimination on a worldwide scale, we can all take small steps within our individual lives and measures as a school in order to become global citizens and architects of a better world for all.

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