Microaggressions Aren’t So Micro


Michelle Wang, Staff Writer

Growing up in a suburb of Baltimore, there were few Asian peers in my community, and even fewer Asian-Americans represented in the media. I grew up watching my peers pulling their eyes back in mocking, and the ‘fox-eye’ beauty trend, all taunting me with their subtle microaggressions. This compounded into disdain, every time my immigrant parents misproduced a word.

The pervasive nature of microaggressions didn’t disappear as I grew older. Even in school, as one of the most active participants, still being called the name of the only other Asian student in the class reinforced my sense of shame and embarrassment. This demoralizing nature of uniformity undermines the progress of decades. Take anti-Asian hate crimes for example; hate crimes against Asian Americans have been exacerbated by the pandemic but have existed for years. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 barred all Chinese immigration. A century later, in the highly publicized 1982 racially motivated hate crime, two white men beat Vincent Chin to death, facing no repercussions. Anti-Asian hate crimes and violence have always existed and continue to exist in an era of ubiquitous racism. Data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339% in 2021. Although measures such as President Biden’s signing of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act have been enacted to combat the rise in hate crimes, where legislation ends is not where true equality begins. A fundamental shift in perception is what must be achieved. This comes in the form of representation and destigmatization. Representation is important, whether it be Simu Liu as the first Asian superhero in a Marvel movie or Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal as the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House of Representatives. Likewise, destigmatization removes the shame away from cultural practices and is a step towards greater inclusiveness. 

I remember in 7th grade thinking my English teacher was exceptionally kind and considerate for opening her room during lunch to create a safe space for those fasting during Ramadan. But this shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be unconditional. Offering alternative and safe spaces is how we destigmatize cultural and religious practices and gain wider acceptance. Oftentimes, the propensity to discriminate is instilled at a young age but it is not irreversible. Implicit bias training and other adjustment modules are how we eliminate discriminatory behaviors. Greater acceptance in the school environment will underpin the basis of inclusivity.

To all my immigrants and children of immigrants out there, I want you to know that your presence is valid and welcomed. It is important to be mindful of the historical and current discrimination that Asian Americans face. We are not your model minorities, nor your scapegoats.