Written by: Shayla Joshi
I often find myself questioning my identity as a woman of colour, and when this internal dialogue arises, I find myself validating my identity by analyzing my experiences.
Have I even been racially discriminated against?
Well, before I even start with that I must ask: what is discrimination? Racial discrimination can range from physical violent acts to microaggressions – the latter of which is often overlooked. The overarching theme in all forms of discrimination seems to be distinguishing an individual based on a categorical aspect like race or gender.
Being physically harmed as a result of an individual’s race, also known as physical racism, clearly adheres to the definition of discrimination. Microaggressions are often overlooked as they involve a passive form of discrimination – a racial minority is viewed and treated differently.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of microaggressions, I find myself falling into the trap of overlooking my own experiences. This leads me to question whether I even qualify as a woman of colour and if I have been discriminated against. These thoughts are ludicrous because my identity is not prescribed to me – it stems from my own, honest experiences.
During this past September’s QWOCC general member meeting about “Reconnecting to Roots,” I realized that though the racism I have faced is not overt, it is not invalid. We were discussing the commonly asked question of “Where are you from?” when the realization hit me that this question is a microaggression. From this point, I sent myself into a spiral analyzing my past experiences:
When I was consistently set up with one of the only other Indian guys in high school – was this a microaggression?
When it was assumed that if I got a bad mark my parents would be mad at me – was this a microaggression?
When people always ‘joke’ about me getting an arranged marriage – is this a microaggression?
Yes, yes, and yes. Discrimination takes many different forms, which is why allyship within and between groups is so important. As a result of slow but consistent change, there seems to be a generational shift from the predominantly physical or verbal overt abuse and violence faced by racialized populations 20 years ago. Now, microaggressions have become a subdued norm; as they are not direct, they are easy to overlook and get away with.
This discrepancy has created what I observe as a generational gap – oftentimes, the differences in experiences from 20 years ago and now have resulted in difficulties seeing eye-to-eye on what discrimination entails. I’ve seen this manifest as a ‘tit for tat’ situation wherein individuals from 20 years ago who have been on the receiving end of violent racism cannot fathom how a microaggression qualifies as a form of discrimination. This is where allyship and education come in. Though people’s experiences from 20 years ago are not the same as experiences of today, neither individual should feel invalidated. Each and every instance of discrimination, however it may present itself, is an individual’s legitimate experience. Within racial groups, we need to collectively acknowledge that racism can and will present itself in many forms.
We must continue educating individuals from older generations while simultaneously appreciating their experiences and the action they took to allow us to be where we are today. We must acknowledge that discrimination, in whatever form, is not a determining factor of whether an individual is a minority. Furthermore, we must recognize that the central goal of group allyship is to create a community where individuals feel seen and heard.