Time for another edition of “Allison’s Word.” However, this is going to be a change of pace from the previous posts in this category. For one, I will be highlighting a “word” as I have previously done, though it won’t be the lead-off here. Also, I won’t be bringing in that disembodied voice (you know, the one aligned to paragraph right and speaking in bold font), nor will I put up photos of myself vamping it up with some sign; this will be a rather serious topic, so there will be no room for any of that whimsicality.
And this topic is inspired by a couple of unfortunate situations one of my online friends recently experienced. Since I’m rather hesitant to make her relive the experiences, I won’t identify her by name or ping back to her post. I will say, though, that for point of reference, she is of Asian ethnicity and she is currently in Europe.
Before we go any further, I want to link to the definition of a term not many of you may be familiar with, but it’s part of the serious subject of this post: Microaggression theory, which is a term used to describe brief and sometimes unintended discrimination and degradation against anyone due to certain identifiable traits (e.g. race, gender, sexuality, financial class). My friend used the term microagressions to describe a couple of first-hand experiences that involved her ethnicity of origin: On one occasion, it involved a colleague’s daughter demonstrating the, uh, facial trait of those of Asian ethnicity. On another, a teenager at a school she is working at murmured an absolutely offensive term to describe Orientals as she walked past.
Now, my friend chalked both incidents to young people being young people and being immature. In the first incident, the child said she learned the gesture in school, but she and her mother offered sincere contrition. My friend let the second incident pass, but she did not condone the student’s actions. After she talked about these incidents online not too long ago, I truly felt sorry for her. I also started to get a little bit upset. I mean, one would optimistically tend to think that, since this is the 21st century, we would have gotten beyond referring to other people and cultures who are not exactly like us with words and expressions that can be degrading… whether they are delivered in a casual manner or not. As these incidents prove, that’s not the case. As she noted in her recollection, many of those emigrating from North and West Africa to France have been relegated to live in lower-class areas. Add that with news items such as this about how officials in Europe are not entirely welcoming migrants escaping Syria’s conflict with open arms, and you get the idea that some in Europe are not as tolerant and accepting as you hoped they would be.
And it’s not just over in Europe, either. Heck, even here in the United States, a nation that’s supposedly “the greatest on Earth,” the problem of prejudice against and acceptance and respect toward minority groups — whether they are classified by appearance, country of origin/ancestry, gender, sexuality, language, or even income level — is still a very touchy subject. Even some politicians, either in office or running for a higher one, have used prejudicial attitudes in an effort to get media attention and voter support their way. *sigh* Just as nobody said we were ever the most perfect nation on Earth, nobody ever said that those who want to lead it were intelligent people.
But when you think of it, all of this microaggression, intentional or not, can be a result of this:
Fear can be a scary thing. Oh, sure, there are simple, somewhat superficial fears we all admit to. There are those who fear spiders, snakes, flying, clowns, or an infinite number of other things. For me, I will readily admit to a fear of heights (I admitted as such in a post last week). Fear can be an all-too-very-consuming thing as well, especially the fear of…
And I don’t mean some horror movie called Them! in which townsfolk had to fight off a colony of nuclear-irradiated ants. (Sorry for the brief moment of whimsy there.) In the case of Europe, as I noted above, when they see these “newcomers” (for lack of a better term) arriving from foreign lands, they begin to fear who these people are and how they may encroach their comfort level. Will these people not acclimate to your culture? Will they force their beliefs on you? Will they take your job? (That one is a claim made all to easily in American political circles these days.) Could they do countless other things you may not like? It’s that fear of the unknown that you project when you become fearful of… them.
Of course, it’s not just the fear of those who are of a different ethnicity or country of origin from you that can be a concern. It can be fear of those who don’t hold the same traditional sexual or gender identities or roles as you. It can certainly be a fear of those who don’t worship the same deity in the same way as you. And, yes, it can be the fear of those who do not have the same skin color as you, as the history books have so very sadly proven here in the United States.
It’s this fear of the others… of them… that can accumulate within someone or some groups and raise the possibility of lashing out and doing something rash. Sometimes you may not mean to do so (the definition of microaggression), but those malicious stares, words, or actions are all meant to make you feel better — more superior? — than those you aim your aggression towards. It’s the all-too-easy practice, promotion, and spreading of these emotions — from one group or nation to another, as well as from one generation to subsequent generations — that can make the culture of hate and disdain such a concern.
But while those who wallow in their fear of others tend to shout their feelings at the top of their lungs, it’s good to know that they’re outnumbered by a multitude of others who do not share in that hate and disdain. These people can make enough noise, in their words or actions, to drown out those who propagate the hatred. And just as much as hate can be spread from one generation to the next, so can love and respect towards others who do not share the same traits as you.
There was a large moment this past week that warmed my heart a bit concerning the fear of others and how it can be rejected. It didn’t occur in Europe or here in the States, but up north in Canada, where voters went to the polls last Monday in a national election. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you, if you didn’t hear the news, that the conservative incumbent government was voted out of power. Generally, the belief was that that government had been in power for too long (9 years), but the party that did get voted into power generally stressed, among other things, that “Canada is a country built on respect for rights and freedoms,” whether it’s the right to vote or the the freedom to wear a religious symbol. The incumbents, however, tended to lead with fear during the campaign.
In the end, the party that promoted “sunny ways” (the leader’s term) was elected to form a government instead of a fearful incumbent who, well, microaggressively promoted fear, including that of the unknown, in an effort to get elected. Does that fear still linger? Well, perhaps so (I’m not Canadian nor am I an expert on all things Canadian). But you get the sense that because of this result, there are still very many decent people in this world, those who are not fearful of others that are not like them and hope to live in a future where that fear will not be so prevalent. Here’s hoping that attitude expands to other people in other societies. Heck, it may already exist. Despite her experiences receiving microaggression, my friend knows that there very many others on the European continent who do not share the belief of fear, those who look to the character of the person instead of the ethnicity or identity the present. To me, that’s a positive sign, that the culture of respect towards others will every single time trump the ugly culture of fear.