Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Speaking with the “Other” & role playing microaggression

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Today in my digital literacies and intercultural learning class, we did the following exercise:

Watched then discussed this video

Watched then discussed this funnier video (although the videos are similar, I showed them both because I wanted to start class on time, but wanted all students to get an opportunity to discuss the topic. In an ideal situation, one or the other would suffice).

I then asked them to Google the term microaggression and think of whether it’s ever happened to them or they’ve seen it, and we talked about the importance of context and understanding the relationship between people before deciding if something was microaggression or offensive or not. I often like to demonstrate an idea to students in a way that’s distant from them, but then to ask them to connect it to their personal experience.

We then broke up into groups of 3-4 to work on role playing examples of microaggression. Each group could come up with whatever they wanted and it was GREAT. They managed to insert gender issues (both against women and against men), religion issues in Egypt (both against Christians in Egypt and headsarved women, and the ways in which Americans speak about Arabs/Muslims). They covered lots of diversity and complexity in 5 minute sketches and I hope we’ll keep remembering these sketches throughout the semester.

I loved that some of them spoke directly of experiences that happened to them, while others spoke of things they’d seen happen to others. And in the meantime, got to know each other better, I hope. And we all had a good laugh, too!

We talked briefly along the way about how tone matters, and how certain things wouldn’t seem offensive to others in a different tone or context. And how online this is more complicated because text hides tone or can relay misunderstandings of tone…. We also talked about how sometimes we are forgiving because we know the person doesn’t mean it, but that microaggressions happen unintentionally yet harm those on the receiving end of them (because they’re usually already marginal in some way). One example a student gave me did not feel like microaggression to me. It made me angry. A professor made a sexist comment (and not even of a STEM discipline where this issue is common) telling girls this career is not for you. I’m still mulling over how to act on the knowledge that a professor at my institution would do such a thing. That to me is not microaggression. That’s flat out gender discrimination and worse.

What do you think of this exercise? How could we make it better?

Note : thanks to Bonni Stachowiak and Kate Bowles for their introducing me to the first and second video, respectively.

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