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[Text about microaggressions prepared in cooperation with Dora Küntzel - Punt Kick / Living Library of Poland]
92% of Polish women and men declare that they have never had contact with refugees and Muslims,
84% of Polish women and men declare that they have never had contact with Jews,
75% of Polish women and men declare that they have never had contact with Roma.
These are the results of the research of the Report of the Center for Research on Prejudice "Intergroup contact and social distance in the Polish Prejudice Survey 3" (Warsaw 2017).
If you've been in a situation where you had a hard time deciding whether a comment, joke, or eloquent silence was rude or prejudiced, it's possible you were dealing with microaggression.
Microaggressions are barely noticeable, subtle forms of discrimination. They are often unconscious and unintentional, so we can commit them completely unintentionally
Microaggression does not refer to specific behaviors, e.g. related to a person's communication style or achievements, but to various characteristics of their identity.
A person who experiences microaggressions may question whether they are really experiencing them. On the other hand, when they decide to react, they can be accused of being oversensitive.
What does microaggression look like?
- Eye rolling, sighing,
- Laughter, jokes, inside jokes that exclude a person from a given topic,
- Disparaging comments, whispering about someone on the side, interrupting,
– Mylenie tytułów/pozycji i funkcji,
- Confusing titles and functions,
- Remarks on stereotypically attributed features.
Microaggressions, although sometimes so elusive, can have very serious consequences for the person who experiences them. Their accumulation leads to lower self-esteem, exclusion, stress and depression. We can prevent this by being mindful of how we communicate.
What's wrong with the question: "But where are you really from?"
In Poland, there are several thousand dark-skinned people from relationships of Polish women and men with citizens of other countries, several thousand dark-skinned people who came to Poland a few or several dozen years ago, took Polish citizenship, speak Polish and are Poles. The question of where they really come from undermines their identity and belonging to Polish nationality.
A similar mechanism occurs when we automatically address someone in English or assume that someone does not speak Polish.
Try to talk in Polish first and don't assume that someone is not from here. If someone wants to, they will certainly tell about their roots.
What's wrong with: Touching the hair
For black people, hair is a cultural, political, and, like for everyone else, personal issue.
For black people, hair is a cultural, political, and, like for everyone else, personal issue. The fascination with such hair and commenting on it, let alone touching it, is not only very irritating and transcending personal space, but it is micro-aggressive.
Touching an afro without someone's express consent sends a signal that they are exotic in a given context and put the person in the position of "the other ".
What to do? Don't touch.
What is wrong with the question: "Can I call you Janek?"
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone introduces himself to you and you can't pronounce and remember that person's name, because it is unusual for you and difficult to pronounce?
In such a situation, a comment like “I will never remember that”, “Can I just call you [polonized or shortened version of they name]?” it is disrespectful and often unconscious micro-aggressive behavior.
The name is part of our identity, it can be difficult to pronounce, but suggesting a different name, shortening the name without the consent of the person, misses an important part of their history. It also introduces the dynamics of power, when one person - most often from a dominant or privileged group - can change the name of another person - usually from an unprivileged group, to what they consider acceptable, implicitly in line with the norm.
What to do in that case?
● Repeat the person's name when introducing themself. This will ensure that you are pronouncing her name correctly.
● Reassure the person that you care about pronouncing their name correctly.
● Once you learn the correct pronunciation on your own - teach it to others as well.
● If you hear someone mispronounce the name and the person directly concerned is not nearby, feel free to correct it.
● Politely ask for a reminder. Everyone can forget the name of a new person.
What might religious microaggressions look like?
Religious microaggressions are barely noticeable, subtle forms of discrimination related to someone's religion. They are often unconscious and unintentional, so it happens that we commit them completely unintentionally.
Many religious microaggressions result from the lack of knowledge about religious principles and the stereotypical image of the followers of a given religion and ideas about how religious people should look and behave.
What's wrong with the question: "Are you Jewish? Where's that funny cap? / Why do you need this funny cap?”
Wearing a kippah / yarmulke / skullcap is not a Torah command, but a strong common custom. Not every Jew wears a kippah, and the expectation that they should, is microaggressive, because it is an attempt to fit them into the default norm, and also questions someone's identity and religious affiliation. The decision about when and whether to start wearing a kippah is an expression of the relationship with one's religiousness, for which no one has to explain. It is worth remembering that the word "Jew" refers not only to religion, but also to ethnicity. Not all Jews are religious.
The reaction to a Jew wearing a kippah that ridicules this headgear is also micro-aggressive. It proves ignoring an important element of religion and tradition, and puts the person in the position of "the other". Be careful of words that may seem disrespectful or ridiculing.
IT IS OK not to know the names of items of clothing that are important to different religious groups.
IT'S NOT OK to trivialize their name and admonish someone who has made a personal decision not to wear them.
What is wrong with the sentence: "Let's talk about this project over lunch"
In many religions there is a commandment of fasting - for Muslims, the period of fasting is Ramadan, for Catholics it is e.g. Ash Wednesday and Great Friday for Jews – e.g. Yom Kippur.
Holding a business team meeting, which is mandatory by nature, during a meal when there is a fasting person in the group can be perceived as micro-aggression because it excludes the fasting person and puts them in the position of "the other".
IT IS OK not to know and not understand why someone is fasting.
IT IS NOT OK to ignore the information about the fast and not respect someone's needs in this regard.
What's wrong with the sentence: "I didn't know you were a Muslim, I've never seen you wear a hijab"
Covering up and modest dress are among the tenets of Islam, but there are different interpretations of what exactly this means. Some Muslim women wear hijab, some niqab and some leave their hair down. This is a personal choice of each woman, which she does not have to explain. If a woman identifies with Islam, the absence of a [stereo]typical item of clothing does not make her a less authentic Muslim.
IT IS OK not to know what a religion's dress code is.
IT'S NOT OK to control someone's dress and challenge someone's religiousness because of personal decisions.
What is wrong with the question: "And you confess that you live with your girlfriend?"
How a person implements the principles of their religion and what life decisions they make about their sex life is a personal choice of each of the followers. Scoring what might be considered an inconsistency between rules and behavior is micro-aggression that undermines someone's religious identity. No one is obliged to explain himself if they do not live up to our ideas about how they should follow the rules of their religion.
IT IS OK to know the rules of a given religion.
IT'S NOT OK to control someone's way of following these rules.
Micro-aggressions and verbal abuse can lead to acts of bias-motivated violence. Such violence does not come out of nowhere. Most often, at the beginning there are offensive words, ridicule and humiliation. Then there is an escalation, often there is physical violence.
How to respond to bias-motivated violence?
Prejudice violence is a specific type of violence that is motivated by prejudice or even hatred towards a particular group of people.
HOW TO REACT?
● Do not ignore aggressive behavior in public spaces, e.g. on public transport.
● Engage other people to help.
● Call the emergency number 112 and call the police.
● Inform the person driving the vehicle.
● Record the incident and hand over the recording to the police.
● Approach the person you are attacking, say hello and talk to them.
● Thanks to your joint response, a difficult situation can be brought under control.
● React anytime, anywhere.