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Common Microaggressions in Myanmar Society

Implicit bias and the resulting microaggressions in the form of verbal, nonverbal, or behavior are everywhere, and everyone has encountered them. Not sure you did? Let's first discuss what microaggression is: it can be a comment, an action that sensitively and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward race, sex, gender, a minority group, and more. Microaggression is sometimes a kind of conversation that is hard and uncomfortable. Psychologist Derald Wing Sue and his colleagues have organized microaggressions into three categories: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations. 

Equality and Equity: One Size Fits All is one of the courses taught by Dr. Romina de Jong during the Parami Fall semester modular period 2. Apart from exploring gender theories, equality, equity, and justice, the concepts of implicit bias and microaggressions were studied by students, resulting in open conversations about common racial or gender microaggressions they have experienced and observed in society.

Students discussing Microaggressions in their classmates

Sushil: One time, I was having lunch at a restaurant; a guy walked up behind me and said, "it smells like Masala here." The truth was there was not even masala in my food. I looked at him and kept on eating without responding. If I were in another situation where I was on the bus, I would ask him why he would say so?  

Some Burmese people use the word "Kala/Kula" to describe our race and say it is not a bad word, but it is like a discriminating word for us. 

Khin Su Mon: I used to wear short hair, and I was addressed as brother and was even asked if I was a transgender. This is one of the microaggressions I have faced in daily life. I also got comments regarding my height for not being tall enough and being treated differently because of my appearance. People would comment something like, "You are too small."In my case, I'd rather turn the conversation into a joke instead of responding to it aggressively because it seems to be difficult for some people to realize that their words contain micro-aggression. 

Usually, when a man and woman are into arguments, a man would talk too much. A common phrase used in this kind of situation is telling the man something like, "You are so effeminate." This implies that being a girl/woman is not good, and I have used this phrase before without realizing its consequences.

Students discussing Microaggressions in their classmates

Shwe Yi: The image of LGBTQ+ people is not favorable. LGBTQ+ people are usually viewed as hypersexual, and often, they are ridiculed. This is also how the character of LGBTQ+ people is portrayed in mass media. In the Myanmar film industry, gay men and transgender women are portrayed as incompetent, wearing funny dresses and acting in an exaggerated way to delight the audience. 

As a pan-sexual or genderless, I look at someone as a human being, and I like to get to know them because of their personality or perspective. I am now 26-year-old, and people would ask me questions like, "when will you have a boyfriend? This is a quite common microaggression in Myanmar society. I wonder why specifically boyfriend or man? Because there are more than two genders and I am attracted to all genders, so my partner could be a man or otherwise. Even if they know my sexual orientation, some people would say things like this. It's like they don't care about my identity.  

A comment like "You are so young" is another example of a possible microaggression. I personally was offended because I was not treated with respect. A scenario is that people think that you are young, so they treat you differently. 

Recognizing microaggressions and overcoming implicit bias 

Sushil: Before, I would think we were an ethnic minority, which is why we have microaggressions. Learning how other people experience it as well, even being a majority or based on gender, skin colors, or sexual orientation, I realized that it is more significant than I thought. I wouldn't ignore it next time. For example, one of my classmates shared that he was called out for applying lotion as he has a dark skin texture. So, I believe in educating people.  Like giving out pamphlets and raising awareness would be better. It is hard to talk to people who have no awareness at all. We would become more respectful to one and another by having a better understanding of the possible impact of microaggressions and implicit bias. 

Khin Su Mon: A gentle response could be a better way to reduce microaggression as people don't like to be lectured by others even though they are in the wrong. And it is good to be thoughtful and considerate of our words and actions, whether that contains implicit bias or micro-aggression, which could be harmful to others. 

Shwe Yi Phwe: Some microaggressions could affect individuals more or less, so we must educate people about it. For example, we can teach this topic at school as well. Microaggressions relate to anyone. Even compliments can hurt others' feelings, especially in the classroom when a teacher says, "you guys did better than expected." It would be better to be more thoughtful about what to say and avoid racist and sexist comments on social media. 

All humans have implicit biases. However, not everyone engages in discrimination or microaggression. It does not always happen on purpose to harm others by words or behavior; they might think it is okay to give such a comment to someone. However, it depends on the situation, and it has to be at the right time and the right place. As suggested, microaggressions may seem small, or they could even be well-intended, but some of the examples still show it could be harmful, weaken self-confidence, and cause a poor self-image for individuals. Educating ourselves and others on the different types of microaggressions, recognizing and challenging our own biases and prejudices, and embracing diversity could be some of the solutions. 

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