No, I’m not good at sports (quite terrible honestly). Oh, my hair? No, it’s just – hair. Yes, hip-hop is good, but I’m actually going through an ABBA phase right now. Sir, you do know that I can see you moving seats so you don’t have to sit by me, right? For many of us, microaggressions are inevitable. They can sideswipe us at any time, anywhere, oftentimes leaving us with damage that goes unnoticed. While Google is quick to tell us what microaggressions are and how to address them in a given situation, I found myself wanting to know what’s next. What do we do after we’ve ignored our perpetrator or finished having that heart to heart? Like many of us, I’ve gotten so caught up on whether I should say something and how that I tend to forget about my own after-care. I forget that I not only need to practice my would-be speeches but also surrender the emotions left behind. So, how do we do it? How do we move on without letting the miseducation of others hinder us?
The Internal Check In
Everyone experiences emotions differently. What triggers someone in one way won’t for another. This becomes even more complicated living abroad where it can build up to become something of an emotional pimple. It can come from overly focusing on how to navigate cultural faux pas and develop those much-needed relationships that we neglect to check in with ourselves. Then when someone’s words or actions prove prejudice, we burst like something out of Dr. Pimple Popper. Our anger, pus, dead skin cells, and past experiences go everywhere. Even after all of it is wiped clean, if there isn’t a proper routine established then it’s bound to return. Since our emotions are as unique to us as our skin routines, it is imperative to take a mirror and get a closer look. How?
First, carve out time to sit with yourself. Decide to reconnect by taking a breath in and quiet the thoughts swarming inside. Decide to love by listening to how you’re feeling and just be with them for a while. This will help you to understand where they’re coming from and develop more compassion for yourself. Personally, doing this is still a job in and of itself for me. At times there’s too much emotion and I am always hesitant to start. But, taking care of messy feelings is a necessary step to recovery and a muscle that I am responsible for strengthening. As a side, this isn’t easy in environments with minimal support, so if you need breaks or help processing what you feel then that’s fine. Just do it. One thing that’s helped me overcome this wall is by thinking of myself as a glass. I reshape ‘checking in’ to mean refilling myself so that I can experience life the way I want, and be the best for myself and for others.
Questions I ask myself:
What type of hurt am I feeling? Where is it really coming from? Is it from the past? An assumption that I’m carrying from old programming from a former country?
Then I assess whether the aggression is out of simple curiosity or racism. Was it ill-intended? Does Sanshiroh deserve a second chance at friendship? Were they just trying to connect but didn’t have the confidence or experience? Is Becky really worth my time and energy?
Oftentimes, when others want to take pictures with us or they say something stereotypical it doesn’t always come from a bad place. This doesn’t mean that it’s right or should be excused, but acknowledging its real source may help you to better interact with your feelings.
Working It Out
Now, comes the fun part. Taking care of your emotions isn’t just about starting a conversation with yourself. It’s also about giving space through cathartic activities to rediscover your joy. Whether that’s with some candles, a hot bubble bath, and Celine Dion. (No shade to anyone because I definitely have.) Or, talking to someone, driving, or going on a walk. Whatever you choose, do it with care.
Then comes the release…
The art of letting go is a lot more difficult to master than you might think. It means reclaiming the time and energy that was wasted thinking about the past, smiling in the present, and looking forward to a more hopeful tomorrow. For me, this is an accumulation of everything I’ve done up to this point. I sit and immerse myself in something I purely enjoy: traveling, meditation, and singing. This shifts my energy and perspective into one of two camps. Reserved for strangers and one-off encounters is the ‘positive, not giving a f*ck attitude’. It’s easy to spot with the head held up high posture, Zoolander-esque cheeks, and the ‘step aside’ swagger. At this frequency, I realign with my self-worth and exchange validation with fulfillment.
Then there’s the second option. The ‘oh, you’re gonna see me’ attitude, or lovingly shortened to ‘just be you’. This is for spaces we frequent and people in our social circles. Unlike the former, there is no specific posture. The key is letting them see you as you are, and this is something that can only be achieved by just being. It’s natural, unrehearsed, and not needing to be perfected. Go on, let others naturally witness your greatness.
Like anything worth doing, processing our emotions after a microaggression is difficult. It takes dredging up heavy emotions from our past while somehow still remembering to be a friend to ourselves. It’s exhausting and time-consuming. Yet, in the same wound that was left by those careless words and actions is a threshold for deeper exploration and self-love that no one can ever take away.