Being Othered – Microaggressions and cultural impact by Ana Mateu Alvaro

Male with arms crossed looking upset.

Student Engagement Ambassador, Ana, talks about her experiences of microaggressions and the impact microaggressions have on people of colour. 

We tend to underestimate the influence of microaggressions that the Black Community experiences on a daily basis. By this I mean verbal and non-verbal gestures that mark certain social differences. They, intentionally or not, remind us of the differences that remind us that we are “the other”.

When I thought of writing this blog I didn’t really know where to start. I guess as a Cuban Spaniard raised in Spain you get used to certain comments. I grew up in Madrid, both in my neighborhood and in my school I was one of the only people of colour in my environment (except for my father). My mother’s family is Spanish so the relationship I had with my black relatives has been scarce.

At school I had my group of friends, but I didn’t really interact with anyone who wasn’t in my class. I now remember that there were a couple of events in the lunchroom that didn’t seem weird at the time. A group of boys, older than me, used to laugh and whisper when I passed them, until one day they decided to talk to me. But all that came out of their mouths were illegible, made-up words. That was their way of finding out if I spoke “African”.

Looking back, I realise that this was clearly harassment.

But what about another example?

When comparing experiences with a friend, growing up as black girls in predominantly white countries (England and Spain respectively), she told me how at school she was compared to being white for using good grammar and her “softer” voice. Something similar has happened to me both in Spain and abroad when I have been asked “How come your Spanish is so good?”.

Assuming that a black person does not have the capacity of achieving the same skills or development makes harder for new and old generations to succeed. It is almost a necessity to make sure they realise your worthy and capable. As Andrea Boyles (2017)  says in one of her talks, “we are the kids that have been othered”.

It’s things like this that make you question what have you done? Why am I different? Why do I have to assert myself?

To me, this is just one of many situations that go unnoticed. Growing up, we have been made to feel less than by comments assuming our religion or nationality based on the colour of our skin. Signs of surprise when our intelligence or competence is higher than expected; “For a black person you are very…”; or as my friend said “why do people touch my hair if I don’t even know them?”.

Microaggressions can go unnoticed. Although all of us who have been through such a situation have experienced the discomfort afterwards. Symptoms of stress, anxiety and PTSD have been picked up and linked with what others might call a simple cultural misstep.

False colorblindness, or thinking that race is irrelevant to being successful, are widespread ideas that are not in line with reality, which Black people of all ages and walks of life experience on our day to day.

Becoming aware of the use of our language and educating ourselves is the best way to foster an equal environment.

If you are interested in finding out more, there are some resources to start:

And for those who need a scientific point of view:

Acknowledgements to my Kiera and Jameilia

By Ana Mateu Alvaro

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