“Where Are You REALLY From?” – What is a Microaggression?

The term microaggression has been part of racial discourse for some time now. What is a microaggression? What impact does it have?

Microaggressions are hostile verbal, behavioral, or environmental insults or slurs that target People of Colour and Indigenous Communties. They are normalized, and are thus often not recognized as aggressive or inappropriate. Examples of microaggressions include asking People of Colour: “Where are you from?”

“I get this question all the time,” describes Sahar Ibrahim, a staff of CFRAC. “I was born and raised in Treaty 7 territory in Calgary, I was an Air Cadet, I speak French and English, and I love hiking and snowboarding; but because my skin is brown, I am constantly asked where I’m from. I don’t mind the curiosity, but it does bother me when answering ‘Calgary’ is never satisfactory. And even stating that my parents are from East Africa isn’t satisfactory, because I’m brown and not black. We haven’t lived in South Asia for well over 100 years, and yet, that’s always the answer that satisfies people. But if I was white, even if I was an immigrant, ‘Calgary’ would be a good enough answer; or I would just never get asked that question.”

Microaggression are thus subtle acts that imply much larger prejudices and stereotypes. In Sahar’s case, the question ‘Where are you from?’ indicates that she is being categorized as foreign due to her brown skin, despite being born on Turtle Island (Canada). In the same way, seemingly benign statements about how welcoming the Canadian state is erases the history of colonization on this land and the non-consensual, violent settlement of communities on Indigenous lands.

Other common examples of microaggressions can be found here: http://sph.umn.edu/site/docs/hewg/microaggressions.pdf

Microaggressions are important to address and understand because their impact is deep and pervasive. They are constant reminders for Indigenous Communities and Communities of Colour that they are the ‘Other’, peripheral to the norm. This emphasizes that, whether intentional or untintentional, the impact of these actions is critical to consider. When one is constantly reminded that they don’t quite belong, debilitating feelings of insecurity, unworthiness, and alienation become one’s reality.