Daily racial microaggressions

December 16, 2013

I wasn’t going to post this, but I read ’21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis’ by BuzzFeed via Facebook and I just had to tell you my little story. The term “microaggression” was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s. Photographer Kiyun asked her friends at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus to “write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” This project is NOT about showing how ignorant people can be in order to simply dismiss their ignorance. Instead, it is about showing how these comments create and enforce uncomfortable, violent and unsafe realities onto peoples’ workplace, home, school, childhood/adolescence/adulthood, and public transportation/space environments.” (BuzzFeed)


My friends and I could probably write a Harry Potter size book on microaggressions. All my friends would be entitled to three chapters each, but mine section will span across five. I would have ample content because of my relocation to London and my exchange experience. I have only been here for four months and every week I have a new racial microaggressive story to tell. Here is the latest…

I started going to Hillsong London a few months ago and every Sunday we are encouraged to introduce ourselves to someone around us we don’t know. Yesterday, I just happened to go to church alone and a lady sitting two seats down asked if I came alone and moved down to sit next to me because she too came alone. After the service she asked me where I was from or something along those lines. My response was ‘I was born in Sydney‘.
Now let me set the scene. This lady is Nigerian. I didn’t know that initially but I could tell she was African. When I said I was born in Sydney, she said ‘Are you Aboriginal?’ In my head I am thinking does a sister not know another sister. I said ‘No I am Ghanaian’ and she’s like ‘Oh at least you know where you are from’. Then she started saying she is a teacher and she read that the White Australians took away the black children (referring to the Stolen Generation which was way before my time). She was implying something and I couldn’t really figure out what she was trying to say. To me it translated as I must have been taken away as a child. I wasn’t sure where this was going. I was a bit taken back and I said bluntly ‘My parents moved to Australia over 25 years ago and I just happened to be born there. There weren’t that many then, but now there is a growing number of Africans and we were treated fine. If anything I think black people are not treated right here in the UK. What’s with the class system and the significance of the word “posh”?’ (This is a whole other post I am one planning to either write or vlog about). I think she kind of realised her cluelessness and said ‘Oh I have never heard of Africans in Australia’. I said ‘I know, but just because you don’t know doesn’t mean they are not there’. The conversation took a turn and she told me her life story.

I was happy we moved from that topic, but her reaction left me uncomfortable. I think it’s because I see a teacher as someone with knowledge who is often right. So when a teacher tells me something that is completely off the chart I find it difficult to process. (Remember how upset I was when my grade two teacher told me that Africa is a state! That didn’t go down well emotionally.) The lady was quite blunt with asking me about being Aboriginal. The way she said it seemed like that was the only way I could be black and Australian.
The reactions I get from people when I tell them I was born in Sydney are crazy and hilarious at times, but the ones which are the most annoying are the ones from Africans in the diaspora. In my head I am thinking, you have left Africa and moved to country ‘A’. My parents have left Africa too and moved to country ‘B’. Why does the journey of my parents and the birth of me seem so foreign when your story is practically identical to mine or has strong similarities?



  • Nadine

    Love this post, I think that what the lady displayed was a mixture of ignorance, (excuse me to say) stupidity and arrogance. Nonetheless love the post I’ve learnt a new word ‘microaggressions’ lol

  • Cindy

    Love your posts in general, and especially this one! We are on a 3 weeks holiday in Sydney and we are thinking of moving here with our 20 month old boy I’m French-Haitian and my hubby is English so reading you confort me in knowing that African culture is appreciated here.

    • Gillean

      How exciting Cindy! I am glad you are enjoying Sydney. If you do move to Sydney, all the best! If you want to know anything, just drop me a line. I would be more than happy to help if I can.

  • Samantha via mefie.co.uk

    Love this post. I have definitely learned a new word and concur with your perspective….I am waiting with baited breath for your post about the UK too! I wonder if some in the UK cannot see how the class system which is so strong in the UK really distorts the idea of equality and social mobility.

    Speak soon,

  • T

    Perceptions and assumptions are a funny things. Let’s face it, we can’t know everything about everyones culture and country but problems arise when people take their assumptions and make it the end all and be all. Once you challenge those assumptions, often without meaning to, sometimes people cannot handle it and prefer to hold on to their own ideas. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, sad and even hilarious at times. PS: I am so intrigued by this word ‘POSH’ : )

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