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Our guest contributor - Satomi Ogata-Knutsen, Talent Acquisition Specialist based in Singapore shares her past struggle as a third culture kid and why we need to be more aware and mindful about microaggressions to create a more harmonious society and workplace.
“But where are you really from?” is a sentence I am so tired of hearing. What does it mean to be a “Japanese person” who doesn’t look and speak like a stereotype? Why do I often find my identity shrinking in someone else’s eyes?
Have you ever heard a remark or observation made about you or another person in a room that left you feeling uncomfortable and alienated? Or have you said something that made someone else uncomfortable, but you did not understand why? Perhaps you let it slide because you felt it was not serious enough to confront, or you did not want to be perceived as too sensitive or dramatic.
Many people do not intend to make racial, sexist, or offensive comments towards others. Unfortunately, these remarks and acts are too prevalent in our society.
What is a microaggression?
Just because you don’t experience it, does not mean it doesn’t exist. In my opinion, microaggression is infectious and easily repeatable.
By assuming someone based on stereotypes, you lose the opportunity to form a deeper connection with that person and do not allow that person space for their individualism and authenticity. This creates a divide and makes people feel lesser, unaccepted, undervalued, and creates an environment and culture where stereotypes are promoted.
Whether you are a target, bystander, or perpetrator, not addressing microaggression can impact our self-confidence, psychological well-being, and behaviours.
What can you do to create a more harmonious society and workplace?
First, be aware. Start by educating yourself with a general definition of microaggression, and personalise it: what does it mean to you?
This can be done through finding someone you feel “safe” with or by conducting an interactive discussion with a focused group to build your awareness and understanding of microaggression, unconscious assumptions and implicit biases.
I also recommend revisiting your experience with microaggression to understand your triggers and unpack them. - what made you uncomfortable, when, and why and how?
Comment received: She does not know how to behave like a normal Japanese person.
When: in the meeting. Some of those people I have not met before.
The comment built an unsolicited first impression on my job capability, competency, and professionalism.
The comment made me question my ability and self-confidence to take on a project based in Japan.
I felt embarrassed. I was afraid that I would be treated like I was incompetent and incapable of work, and felt I needed to work harder to prove my worth.
Growing up as a third culture kid, I struggled with my identity and had doubted my sense of belonging as a Japanese, instead of cherishing my uniqueness and my identity.
2. Pay attention to your intention
Whether you are in a meeting at work or having drinks with your colleagues, sometimes speak or behave in ways without realising that there is a bias behind our words, our tone, and our body language. Because microaggressions are often subtle and may sound more acceptable, it is important to pay attention to your intention, and consciously check-in with yourself, especially in the workplace.
And if you are at the receiving end of microaggression, acknowledge the moment and take the lead in asking “what do you mean by that?” “Can you elaborate on your point?” to understand their intentions behinds their words.
One of Maya Angelou’s famous quotes explains this perfectly. “People do not always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you make them feel.” It is always the effect on the receiver that matters.
3. Learning from mistakes
We are all human beings and unconscious bias is embedded in our behaviour. And we are prone to make mistakes and have that “oops!” moment. It is never too late to correct our mistakes. The past does not control or define who we are today.
More importantly, we should have the self-confidence, awareness, and courage to own up to our mistakes and to channel our energies into self-learning and improvement.
With approximately 196 countries and over 7.8 billion people on earth, it is not hard to imagine how diverse and unique each individual is. The challenge is allowing for inclusive and sense of belonging in such a diverse world. In my opinion, inclusive is respecting and recognising that every individual is different and allowing them to flourish and embrace their uniqueness.
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