Microaggressions: You’ve Been Victimised

“Ni hao!” says the random white, middle-aged man, grinning profusely as he leans in much too closely for your liking whilst you’re walking down the street. Sigh.

Hands up if this has ever happened to you.

This scenario has happened to me multiple times whilst I was abroad – I can guarantee you, every Asian friend you have has probably experienced this if not once, but more than they can count. I mean, wow! What a great way to mark you as an ignorant, presumptuous jerk, right? Blurting out the first Asian-language phrase you think of just because we look vaguely East Asian; I honestly have always wanted to know, do you really think we’re going to be impressed by your poorly pronounced two syllables? Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Mandarin or the people who speak it, and I’d be totally cool with it if it happened to me somewhere where Mandarin is actually the official language. But every single time, it’s always been in a Western city. If you wanted to be friendly, a simple “hi” would’ve been more than enough. I’m always down for a conversation, but not when you’re randomly throwing around “ni hao” to every Asian you see – it’s quite extraordinary, and quite peculiar, to speculate what goes through their sad little minds.

It was only until I attended a Discrimination & Harassment Workshop on May 7th that I finally could put a word to what I had experienced: microaggression. The term was coined by psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in the 1970s, and Columbia professor Dr. Derald Wing Sue1 borrowed the term, referring to it as “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. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment”2.

Some examples3 of microaggression would be asking the Asian guy how to solve a difficult mathematical problem, asking a black person if you can touch their hair, or the “ni hao” situation above. I’ve had my fair share of microaggressions, being told “You act different from other Asians, y’know?”, friends being in disbelief I dislike playing classical music on the piano, or people bluntly assuming my parents forced me to study medicine. I’ve moved around my entire life from a very young age, so I’m used to these types of interactions – I don’t feel threated, I don’t feel intimidated, and I definitely don’t feel relegated to an inferior status. Instead of taking extreme offense from somebody remarking “Your English is so good for somebody from Thailand!”, I take it as a sort of educating moment, and I somewhat enjoy it, because chances are, most people don’t have malicious intentions behind their words. I don’t believe they’re trying to “aggress” me in any way, and it’s just a sincere comment from somebody who maybe doesn’t mingle much with Asians. It sprouts from their upbringing; perhaps they’ve lived in only one place their entire lives. I once asked a lecturer a question about their presentation, only for her to slowly repeat the exact same phrase she used in her lecture, when it was the specific meaning behind it I was interested in. The issue here was she spontaneously assumed this Asian student couldn’t understand her British accent during the lecture, rather than wanting to delve into the science – but this lady is not a racist at all, and I felt completely fine. I didn’t see that encounter as a microaggression until I discovered the concept itself. Plus, who’s to say it doesn’t go the other way around? I’ve definitely displayed my fair share of microaggressions (e.g. saying to my Asian friends “That’s such a White thing to do” or even asking “But where are your parents from? Where are you ethnically from?”). Leave a comment down below of what microaggressions you’ve ever faced or dished out yourself without knowing – this is a non-judgemental zone (I’ll make sure of it)!

So during the workshop I attended, when the presenter introduced this whole microaggression concept, I thought, Man! This is incredibly relatable, preach!” But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered, where does one draw the line? Am I supposed to be more offended? When does this sort of “oh, poor me” stuff stop? Because given the nature of microaggressions – subtle messages slipped into casual conversation – I don’t believe they will ever cease to exist completely. But there is definitely benefit to fostering this awareness surrounding microaggressions; the change is evident. In fact, during my first year of university, I spent more time correcting people saying I was actually from Thailand when they assumed I was from America or Canada. This evolution in assumption is a tell-tale sign we’re at least on our way to eradicating the binary name-calling and formal exclusion (i.e. Asian people are solely from Asia! White people cannot be from Asia!). And on the other end of the stick, I know people aren’t asking about my nationality in order to oppress me, but out of genuine curiosity – diversity is fascinating, and when something’s fascinating, we speak the unintentional dialect of awe.

This interested me. Because when I walk up the steps in the lecture theatre to find a seat, I definitely have this feeling I can’t quite put my finger on – a sort of quiet, “Hm, is she going to sit next to me? I don’t know what to say because she’s Asian” vibe. Like I’m a bit of an outsider, because that’s what we’re programmed to think in a country dominated by white people, whether we’re conscious about it or not. And now I know it’s called microaggression, but why has it only erupted in recent years, and should I even do anything about it except recognize when it happens? Jonathan Haidt4, social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, signposted a fascinating article in September 2015 titled “Microaggression and Moral Cultures”5 published in the journal Comparative Sociology. Written by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, the article may help explain the dynamics currently manifesting in the U.S. society and why concerns of microaggressions have erupted on many American college campuses in the past few years (which I think definitely applies to other countries, too). So, what exactly does it argue?

In brief, we are undergoing a second major transition in moral culture6. Prior to the 18th & 19th century, most Western societies were cultures of honour, existing where the rule of law was weak. People had to avenge offenses, insults and violation of rights on their own via self-help violence (a reputation of rapid brutality and vengeance was thus important back in the day); failure to do so resulted in loss of social respect and status. The first major transition then occurred during the 19th century as the West became cultures of dignity, in which “people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transitions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means.  There’s no more duelling”.7 All citizens were legally endowed with equal rights, practicing tolerance that resulted in much more peaceful societies than those embodying the honour culture. Basically, it was the whole “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” gist.

Campbell and Manning now describe societies currently undergoing a second major culture transition: the culture of dignity into the culture of victimhood. It hybridises both the honour culture’s quickness to respond even to the slightest unintentional offense, with the dignity culture’s appeal for the help of third parties to whom they must make the case they have been victimized, so these administrative bodies or powerful authorities can police and punish transgressions. The result? People are urged to think of themselves as weak, marginalized and oppressed; everybody seeks to become a “victim”8. Within the broader context of the highly egalitarian & diverse culture we live in due to college campuses popping up all over the place and the rise in administrative bodies & regulations, the intensity of identifying oneself as a fragile & aggrieved victim is extreme. Here, the equation triggers an explosion of microaggression.

But of course, like every piece of literature, there were holes in the research – like, for example, the basic question of how this concept of microaggression should be applied. It’d be interesting to use Sue’s list of microaggressions9 with college students and see if minority students feel offense in the same way Sue and his researchers did. Personally, I didn’t for all the Asian stuff. And of course, they failed to take into account the subjectivity of microaggression; if it is truly in the eye of the beholder, where should the blame be placed (if any) if the beholder knows nothing of the third party? There is so much scope – we could delve into white privilege, marginalized groups, and the uprising of meritocracy. With the evolving culture of victimhood, there is paralleled swiftness in reading negativity into lots of things in life, but let’s call it microaggression when we’re belittled on the basis of stereotypes or with malevolent intent.

I hope you don’t take all of this the wrong way.

Sources:

1, 2, 3, 9. Sue DW, Capodilupo CM, Torino GC, Bucceri JM, Holder A, Nadal KL, Esquilin M. Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist. 2007; 62(4): pp. 271-286.

4, 7.  Haidt, J. Where microaggressions really come from: A sociological account. [online]. 2015. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://righteousmind.com/where-microaggressions-really-come-from/.

5. Campbell B & Manning J. Microaggression and moral cultures. Comparative Sociology. 2014; 13(6): pp. 692-726.

6, 8. Bailey, R. The Rise of the Culture of Victimhood Explained. [online]. 2015. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://reason.com/blog/2015/09/08/the-rise-of-the-culture-of-victimhood-ex.

DeAngelis, T. Unmasking ‘racial micro aggressions’. American Psychological Association. 2009; February: p. 42.

McWhorter, J. ‘Microaggression’ Is the New Racism on Campus. [online]. 2014. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://time.com/32618/microaggression-is-the-new-racism-on-campus/.

©TMK

Shawn Mendes: Illuminate World Tour | Review

Yes, so straight after the pesky finals, I hightailed it into London straight after to watch Shawn Mendes with my best friend. It was such a beautiful day, but incredibly hot for London weather (we speculated it was because Mendes was there).

I’m just going to list a few things I noticed/enjoyed about the concert:

Shawn talked about his mum and aunt being there that night, and said, “I want you all to make some noise, to show that family is where it’s loudest at. Can you do that?” It’s funny how musicians mention their families at their shows, because isn’t family the symphony of your life?

His melismas. His vibrato. There’s something about Shawn’s voice that is segmented – each note he sings has its own boundary; a scenic, rustic, white picket fence freshly lacquered. And then there’s the vibrato, incredibly rhythmic and reliable like the ocean waves, a very well-defined pattern of lull and peaks. Almost like the familiar stairs at home. I really, really like it. It just seems to imply he’s this sturdy rock you can rely on. He’s improved vastly from the boy on Vine, and it’s odd knowing I’ve heard him grow.

He looks tired. I gazed at his broken watch moving erratically as his slender fingers played the chords to “Castle On The Hill”, and I tried to imagine the boys on my course doing what Shawn does as a living – could they pull it off? Could they handle the pressure? Maybe initially, but in the long-term, I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody can with ease. It’s a matter of resilience. Being a singer is also being an entertainer and a performer. So when I saw his glassy eyes, passing like a ghost over the ecstatically wild crowd, it hit me that this was his job. He is meant to deliver and meant to perform; I suddenly felt a little afraid.

Singers use that tactic of pulling away from the microphone to let the audience sing the high bits – I saw that excessively with Calum Hood from 5SOS when they performed in Bangkok (mind you, I haven’t watched too many concerts, but that was extremely prominent and obvious). Perplexingly enough, Shawn pulls away during catch phrases of his songs, which were all varied in pitch, and there was definitely no pattern in always letting the crowd sing high parts. Because, this is Mendes everybody! He can hit the high notes like a bullseye.During “Never Be Alone”, I found it hilarious when Shawn asked the crowd to sing the iconic “Woah-oh-ohhhh-ohhh-oh-ohh-oh-oh-oh” part (sorry I wanted to make it realistic) because he attempted to do heavenly melismas/riffs over the top of it, but when he did, the crowd probably thought they had to sing what he was doing and most of the crowd simply trailed off thinking they weren’t supposed to sing. So Shawn kept going, “Come on London, sing it real loud now! Woah-oh-ohhh….” and then would try to quickly switch to those riffs, but the crowd didn’t really get it and once again got a bit derailed. Soon after many “Alright sing with me!” ‘s and “Come on, scream it! Woah-oh-ohhh…” ‘s, he did pull off some very great melismas with the backing track of the finally cooperative crowd, and it sounds great on film. I just found it funny hearing the hesitation and confusion of the crowd initially. Just me? Okay.

My favourite performance was “Ruin” – my friend begged to differ because the interactive portion apparently was extended too long but that was exactly what I adored. It was spacious, it was tranquil, it was bucolic. Very John Mayer. In Shawn’s words, the song was timeless. I cannot say enough how beautiful it was – “Do I ever cross your mind?” was on repeat, and it basically embodied every unrequited lover’s mantra (too real).

His piano-playing was…pretty good for somebody who learned it in 8 months (correct me if I’m wrong). Of course sweat makes your fingers slip and you’re performing in front of 40,000 people, so I can’t blame him for little mistakes I heard. It made me admire him even more (if that’s even possible), because it reminded me he’s just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary life.

Alrighty, I could go on, but it would then require full-blown Vancouver referencing. Overall, it was so devastatingly amazing and it is easy to say the concert topped One Direction & 5SOS (if we’re comparing pop artists here) – go, and experience the incredible talent of Shawn Mendes.

©TMK

Day 3: Shibuya-Style

  • 5/5; Dad and my brother join us (surprising us right at our hotel door).
  • Lunch at family-favourite “Saboten”, and boy, have we missed authentic non-amateur tonkatsu!

  • Down to Minatomirai Station, and we get on the train to Shibuya (TY01), where my Dad and brother go off to Tokyu Hands, and the rest of us head to Roppongi Station…
  • …to the Hedgehog Cafe! It’s a 2 minute walk, and tucked into the corner of a block, but the hedgehog & bunny dolls on the patch of grass gives it away. People book in advance for this, but we luckily got in without doing so. We spent 30 minutes there, and it was unbelievably great!  My sister accidentally lost grip on a chinchilla, and it rapidly scurried around the establishment; this American man yelled “Chinchilla on the loose!” whilst his kids kept asking “Can I have the black bunny???” A must-go place. You can always trust Japanese establishments to be hygienic and sanitary.
  • Then we all meet in Tokyu Hands, where I get brand new watchstraps for my Luminox, and the staff chuckles with, “Ahhh, good choice, ne~” as I choose a military style one.
  • We head back to the hotel, as my sister and brother goes off to see their old friends.
  • On a side-note, I knew Asa Butterfield was currently in Tokyo as well, according to his Instagram story. I’m very excited for “The Space Between Us”. Of course I tried to look for him (passively), and of course I didn’t see him. My luck doesn’t extend that far.
  • My parents and I go to World Porters, which is right beside Cosmo World, and eat at a fantastic restaurant with sushi plates served on conveyor belts. Though, most of what we ordered came from our personalized favourites.

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  • Takoyaki as our post-dinner snack. I got the very last batch of the day! We then walk around the Ferris wheel before heading back to the hotel. What a great time.

    ©TMK

Day 2: Forget Calories, Kamakura

  • Hakata Ippudo ramen in Minatomirai’s Queen Square for brunch – we are the first customers, and the staff were literally turning the sign to “Open” as we walked in.

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  • Then, it is off to Kamakura – after approx 20 minute train ride, we reach, and head towards Zeniarai Benten Shrine which was a 25 minute walk. We stopped to buy a chocolate stick (chocolate…wrapped in chocolate).
  • At the shrine, we washed our money within the traditional sieves provided, prayed with candles & incense, paid ¥100 each for omikuji (fortune-telling strips) upon shaking a cylindrical wooden box until a stick falls out (the prognostics for my love life: “If you just continue being patient, all your dreams will come true!”) and wrote blessings for our family on ema (wooden wishing plaques) that we tied up. Absolutely beautiful scenery; gorgeous shrine. Felt at peace.
  • We then walked down the famous Komachi-dori shopping street, where we made multiple pitstops:
    • Donguri Kyowakoku (Acorn Republic) – one of the official Studio Ghibli shops full of Totoro (!!!) + his pals, Chihiro, No-Face, and many more wonderful characters.
    • Ate a soba noodle & tempura set together between the 3 of us.
    • Hopped to another dessert place and shared the famous Japanese dessert, cream anmitsu. It contained green tea ice cream, chewy mochi balls, sweet red beans, smooth green tea jelly, and kinako (roasted soybean powder), with a dollop of kurimitsu (dark sugar syrup).
      • Stopped at big we-have-everything store for everything.
  • Stopped at torii (gates that mark the entrance to a shrine) with komainu on either side; one has an open mouth (“a-gyo”) and one has a closed mouth (“un-gyo”), where “a” and “un” are the first and last characters of the Japanese alphabet, therefore symbolizing the beginning and end.

 

  • Hopped on the train back to Yokohama station to meet with our old Japanese friends, who took us to eat at a wonderful local place nearby – never, have I ever, felt as full as I have on that night. A lottery of tempura, sushi, croquet, fish, and everything else. I found the menus very beautiful, because it looked like calligraphy, even if it was just kanji on paper. Beef slices were our appetizers. My clothes and hair were infused with cigarette smoke galore. Everything was bliss.

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©TMK

Day 1: Yokohama – Good To Be Back!

  • Despite functioning on only 10 hours of sleep collectively in the past 3 days (through attempted plane naps and on-land naps), I never felt more energized upon looking over the town that I fell deeply in love with 10 years ago.
  • My goodness, it’s all true. We see a packed train carriage with the doors closing, but a businessman sprints in and there is literally no space, and the train staff don’t shout at him or at people to move, oh not at all – the train staff instead shoves the man in  the train, with legs braced in a straddling position for more strength, and manually closes the door on him. This poor man in a suit has no space to move to the point where he cannot even change his facial expression because it’s mashed up against the train door, which further smooshes his face…I felt so terrible for laughing but I blame my Mum who burst out giggling first. I love Japanese people. Their dedication is insane.
  • Immediately after leaving our bags with reception, we went on a trip down memory lane, prancing around Minatomirai (“Remember when we thought that was an actual roller coaster of death” “Sweet Factory still exists!” “I know McDonald’s is right up that escalator…” “Isn’t this where you made those skateboarding videos to Avril Lavigne songs”) when most shops were closed (8am), and then walked through Cosmo World (“Wanna go to the haunted house?” “I want to win beef jerky”).
  • I snack on a tuna & mayonnaise onigiri.
  • But the first true activity was when I brought up going to an Onsen (hot spring bath where you go naked) – my mum and I simply loved going when we were living here, and we had a favorite one opposite World Porters we went to on the weekends. So there we went! When we saw that familiar Onsen logo my Mum got very excited.
  • My sister isn’t as big a fan of Onsens.
  • I was never really embarrassed to be naked in front of the other Japanese locals in an Onsen, because it’s a culture. I always found the human body very beautiful (maybe a contributing factor to why I’d like to become a doctor) because we should respect and celebrate this vessel we are given to inhabit. This time was no different. Except now I kept thinking of areolar tissue and the rectus sheath. Seriously? Even I can’t stand my own self. Can’t ever escape anatomy.
  • I have terrible eyesight and obviously I’m not going to wear glasses inside, so maybe that’s another factor to my lack of embarrassment of my own nudity
  • Suddenly we are all feeling light-headed because of the stark heat of the hot springs and cold wind. But first, I had to stand and wave my hands up in the air because we are at the top of a building with a killer view (no, not me as the view, the Yokohama landscape view). We head back to the hotel to check-in (12pm).
  • I really have to stop associating every single oblique zebra crossing with the inguinal canal…
  • And then we nap. And mine turns out to be not 30 minutes but 3 hours.
  • So we wake up and decide to go to Yokohama Station and Mum desperately looks for Cafe De Monde but it’s permanently closed. We end up eating Omurice at a restaurant that plays a surprising array of music for a little Japanese corner shop (“Hair” by Little Mix, “Worth It” by Fifth Harmony ft. Kid Ink, “New Thang” by Redfoo)…

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  • We get coupons for a free spin on a lucky draw downstairs part of “Join Us”, so we go. We spin this contraption and out pops this yellow ball, and before we know it the man is ringing a bell loudly and shouting celebratory phrases in this public place and gives us a 500 yen coupon to spend!
  • Then we walk to Tokyu Hands (!!!) and there I buy a hedgehog calendar, and the calendar of Instagram famous shiba inu Maru recently released for my brother (Christmas present).
  • We buy taiyaki, a waffle-shaped fish filled with sweet red beans. Puts London’s version to utter disgrace.
  • Then we sit in the Pompompurin Cafe (famous Japanese dog-themed cafe) and even the lamps are in the shape and colour of the dog (but quite pricey dessert considering it’s just a pile of very nice whipped cream in a tart, but it’s a scene of the dog in an Onsen with a piece of mochi as a towel on its head so maybe it’s worth that presentation)
  • We walk for hours, and get trapped in the after 7pm sale where every single food store is shouting to get attention to their reduced prices and it is the best thing ever.
  • I buy sushi (how can you not), and my sister buys a mochi with a full strawberry inside, and sleep. And once again I thank God because of how lucky I am to be here with my family.

©TMK

Eavesdropping In The Check-In Baggage Queue (Heathrow Airport)

Brother & sister, late twenties, Turkish Airlines

  • “I hate Heathrow so much”
  • “I would hate working here”
  • “Gatwick Airport is so much better”
  • “I reckon we’re…2/3 of the way there to check-in”, she says angrily *clearly in the last turn of the queue, just 6 more people away from the counter out of approx 70 people in total behind her*
  • “We should’ve gotten coffee after the check-in”
  • “We’re not moving at all”, she complains while pushing her lugggae forward a good 3 meters of space every five seconds
  • “I don’t know who designed the architecture,” he says in disgust
  • “Like clearly organization wasn’t on the agenda,” she replies

Mother, son & daughter, late thirties, approx 8 yrs old & 13 yrs old respectively, unknown airline

  • “Who’s fault was this” mother sternly asks as the luggage falls on the stanchon
  • “It was the luggage’s fault” she daughter replied not so innocently (we all saw you don’t even)
  • “Aren’t you tired mum” the daughter asks watching the mother wheel a trolley stacked with a luggage pyramid
  • “Of course I’m tired what do you think” snaps mother, but upon realizing is in public purses her matte lipstick lips and smiles curtly at people around her despite the fume coming out her ears
  • “MOVE!”, the mother shouts to the son who is literally sleeping on the floor, face-down (unhygienic I kept thinking, but is literally me all the time)
  • P.S. This girl kept staring at me and because her glasses further magnified her eyes it was even more unsettling

©TMK