Thursday, 12 December 2013

Let's Talk About: Microaggressions - Guest Blogger Laura Bernstein

Let's Talk About:

by Laura Bernstein

A month ago, I didn’t even know what a microaggression was.

Applying for grad school, I wrote in my  personal history what it was like to move in 8th grade from rural NY to Santa Monica, CA. Once there, I had to confront exactly what it meant to be adopted from Bogota, Colombia, when I was 6 months old.

I went to a feedback event where a multicultural education doctoral student read my essay and said, 

"Hey! You experienced microagressions! Have you ever heard about that?" 

Then she pulled out her phone and made me watch this entire video:

8th grade. Noticing my strong New York accent, my new peers were curious, and  asked me where I was from or where I was born. When those two questions had two different answers, there were more hurtful, ignorant, and even intrusive questions to answer. 

“Were your parents drug dealers, is that why you had to be adopted?” 

 “Why don’t you speak Spanish, then?” 

These stuck with me and echoed in my head when I got home from school.

Last month, in this “bootcamp” for grad school, I kept thinking: 

I’m still afraid to tell people I’m from Colombia because I know there is going to be some comment about drug mafias. (This still happens all the time as an adult!)

Wow. In high school I really would have benefitted from knowing about microagressions. Wait?  What?! I don’t just have to accept that as a woman I’m supposed to be monogamous and really, really private about my sexual desires?! (As an adult I find that no one cares –but it was a nightmare in high school.)

Ever since I was little, the men in my home said that I was too sensitive on a weekly basis. The women didn’t disagree but didn’t jump in to validate my feelings either.  I grew up determined to be less sensitive and more “tough.” Sometimes at home I got upset about seemingly meaningless things because I had to put up with this crap all day long from my peers. 

As an adult I am still being told that I’m too sensitive. Probably true. But it's one of the things that makes me a damn good educator of adolescents. 

If I’d known as a teen that the way I’ve been emotionally poked and prodded had a name --- I might have not then turned dangerously back in on myself … feeling guilty for caring what other people thought, feeling guilty for having an unusual history that confused people, feeling so ‘outside’ that I didn’t know where I belonged. 

If you want to learn some more, visit The Microaggressions Project - they are helping to create dialogue around these issues.

Laura Bernstein is a musician, gardener and educator from Colombia/NY/LA/Chicago and now lives in Seattle. A former middle school mathematics and sciences teacher, she is most proud of her work coaching a First Lego League Robotics Team to the Illinois State Tournament. Since moving to Seattle she has performed backing vocals and played bass guitar in Fern Cove and Doseywallips. She is happiest at home collaborating with b l burns. Their music sometimes ends up in interesting places, like Palace Living. Find her on Twitter and Scoop It!.

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