Microaggressions: When to Uphold Our Individuality

by Khalifa Al Maslamani

A rocky journey to finding out whether others were inflicting pain through their remarks, and how I dealt with it.

It’s Probably My Fault

Never having learned the definition of microaggressions, I was never the type of person who could point them out with ease. I would assume people had good intentions and that I misinterpreted the situation. Somehow, I was always in the wrong for assuming the worst in others. Beginning to understand the meaning behind microaggressions, I was suddenly reacquainted with every insensitive remark once directed towards me. The word had implanted itself in my mind and I became exceedingly wary of my surroundings. Every remark now had the potential to be classified as a microaggression, and it was up to me to reach a verdict.

Funny or Insulting?

Should I be offended that others are abruptly surprised and impressed by my ability to “properly” speak English after knowing I’m from the Middle East? Perhaps they were simply curious about my upbringing, or possibly they couldn’t help but wonder how a person like me could have a decent education. Should I also find it culturally insensitive when I’m told I should be grateful for living in Seattle rather than “ride camels in a desert?” Although I find these remarks rather humorous, they are prime examples of what we term microaggressions—statements, whether intentional or not, that are able to “inflict insult or injury.”1 Like Simba Runyowa, I wasn’t particularly offended by humorous comparisons and microaggressions targeted towards my culture and background. Initially, I found it challenging to respond to microaggressions directed towards me.

I had to immediately react to the microaggression before the conversation deviated from the insulting remark. I knew the right course of action was to calmly educate them on how their comment could be perceived, yet I wanted to retaliate and provoke their emotions. I felt disparaged and I wanted them to understand the consequences of their actions. Eventually, my motives were left unvoiced, opting out of confrontation and hoping they would realize their own faults. Instantaneously, I regretted missing out on the opportunity to truly impact another person and inform them to help them be more cautious of blurting out offensive remarks.2 Additionally, grasping onto these pent-up emotions can be overwhelming at times. As I started to bottle up all these microaggressions, I figuratively started to lose my voice. I now felt as if others had the right to heartlessly belittle my identity. My ability to speak up had diminished; I felt completely alone.3

How I Found Myself Again

I had only regained a part of myself when I started to educate others on the impact of microaggressions. My focus wasn’t to be resentful and bitter, but to sincerely influence others to change for the better. I realized that I would aimlessly be spewing more hatred if I chose to hit back with microaggressions directed towards them. Now, when I’m faced with a person who is “fascinated” with my ability to speak English, I cordially help them realize the consequences of their comments by paraphrasing their microaggressions. By restating the microaggressions in my own words, I am reflecting on the content and demonstrating understanding. This reduces the defensiveness and makes others aware of their offensive remarks. For instance, I would say, “You’re saying that you’re surprised someone like me can properly speak English. Why do you think that?” The importance of my journey is to drive people to stand up to hurtful remarks by teaching others the ways in which their comments can be interpreted. Rather than view the world attentively and assume the worst, simply take advantage of every opportunity to help others effectively communicate with you. And hopefully, I have given people the chance to realize the lengths to which their comments can be perceived. It’s time we regained our voices and protect our identities.

Khalifa Al Maslamani is a student at the UW Center for Communication, Difference and Equity. This essay was written as a part of the Center’s Interrupting Privilege seminars.

The UW Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity‘s Interrupting Privilege seminars brings together students and community members from across Seattle for intergenerational conversations about race, racism and its intersections. Through classes that include public lectures, readings, plays, and trainings, participants lean into difficult discussions, with the goal of better understanding and disrupting racism and other forms of inequality.  We strive to be a space where our community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni gather to promote greater equity. Through research collaborations, networking opportunities, action-oriented classes, mentorship programs, and community engagement we engage in dialogue to think critically about race and its intersections, to interrupt privilege, and ultimately to change the structures of power around us.


1Runyowa, S. (2015, September 18). “Microaggressions Matter.” Retrieved November 09, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/microaggressions-matter/406090/

2″What’s so bad about micro-aggressions?” (2013, March 14). Retrieved November 09, 2017, from https://letstalkaboutrace13.wordpress.com/whats-so-bad-about-micro-aggressions/

3Rivera, D. P. (2010, October 05). “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life.” Retrieved November 09, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201010/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life

4 “Data and cyber protection made compulsory by Qatar’s new cyber law.” (2016, June 16). Retrieved November 09, 2017, from https://www.naseba.com/who-we-are/our-blog/data-cyber-protection-made-compulsory-qatars-new-cyber-law/