Discrimination by a thousand paper cuts

New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 6.a

Graduating Teachers have the knowledge and dispositions to work effectively with colleagues, parents/caregivers, families/whānau and communities.

I was once out to dinner at a reasonably fancy restaurant with my boyfriend at the time. The waiter rounded off his spiel about the specials for the evening by telling us ‘this one is for the boys’ referring to a large fillet steak on offer.

Instead of taking the waiter to task, I inwardly seethed and then sweetly ordered the steak he had just described as being ‘for the boys.’

‘Are you sure you can manage that?’ the Waiter asked before scuttling off.

Once the waiter left, I dropped my smile and said what was really on my mind. Boyfriend couldn’t understand why I was annoyed about the exchange that had just happened; after all the waiter was just making a joke. Why did I need to make a big deal about it?

I’m sure everyone has a story similar to mine. Some seemingly small comment that bothered you at the time which you probably laughed off or were stunned into silence.

They said what?

It’s called a micro aggression. Originally used in the context of racism, micro aggressions cover all manner of sins. This nifty website is slowly but surely categorizing seemingly small instances of racism, sexism, homophobia and classism in visual form.

Some examples:

“If I didn’t know what you looked like, I would have thought English was your first language” – My high school English teacher. I’m Asian and English IS my first language.

“In math class, I proudly declare that I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up. A boy sitting near me turns around and says, “You aren’t smart enough to be a veterinarian.”” age: eleven years

“To prove in class that abused children react when adults raise their hands, my third grade teacher suddenly feigns a backhand at me. I cringe, reflexively”

It’s like a community notice board letting people know that actually ‘it’ does matter and ‘it’ is a big deal.

The importance of a site like microaggressions is that it reminds that when discuss stuff like policy and culture, we forget that racism, sexism and homophobia happen every day and often at times when we least expect it. And it hurts, just like a paper cut. And when you get cut over and over again, every day sometimes by people you trust, respect or even love that stuff adds up.

My point?

As a teacher, words matter. And so do the words of students.

One thought on “Discrimination by a thousand paper cuts

Add yours

  1. I agree. Behind most of so called joking, there is an intention of abuse one way or another.
    But many instances we need to ignore them in the interest of being nice to people and give them the benefit of doubt.


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