My mother once described a job interview for a dietary postion within a small community hospital in which she was asked if she could cook. She described how she directed the woman’s gaze to the various pictures of her children that were placed about her living room and invited the woman into her kitchen to show her that she, indeed, as a mother did and could cook.
This question, was experienced by my mother as an example of discrimination…a prejudice of deafness. As I listened to my mother’s story, I understood the question as appropriate to the job. What I interpreted to be discrimination came from the environment in which the interview occurred…not at the hospital, but within the privacy of her own home.
How many job interviews take place within a job applicant’s home?
Being a child of my mother’s and a female, I believed I came to understand discrimination, oppression, and marginalization, both personally and through my mother’s life stories. As a child, she was required by state law to attend a deaf school and initially attended a school that was close enough to the family home to allow for weekends with the family. Yet, because the school was located out of state, she had to enroll in a state school much further away, Consequently, she was then only able to be with family during specific holidays. This is of a time when letters were her only course of connection with her family.
Also, the school she attended had a policy prohibiting communication through the use of sign language as a means to assist the students to fit in with the “hearing world.” I smile today, remembering her pride as she described the opposition to this policy. She and her classmates would gather together in an attic, at night, to teach one another how to speak in sign.
The events of today have invited me to reflect upon my own behaviors — and even my reaction to my mother’s job interview experience — and to see them as being influenced by discrimination, marginalization, and oppression especially in light of my understanding of “microaggression.”
Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.
…microaggressions are active manifestations and/or a reflection of our worldviews of inclusion/exclusion, superiority/inferiority, normality/abnormality, and desirability/undesirability. Microaggressions reflect the active manifestation of oppressive worldviews that create, foster, and enforce marginalization. Because most of us consciously experience ourselves as good, moral and decent human beings, the realization that we hold a biased worldview is very disturbing; thus we prefer to deny, diminish or avoid looking at ourselves honestly. Yet, research suggests that none of us are immune from inheriting the racial, gender, and sexual orientation biases of our society. We have been socialized into racist, sexist and heterosexist attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Much of this is outside the level of conscious awareness, thus we engage in actions that unintentionally oppress and discriminate against others.
I have come to realize that to there are no benign questions…and that a small section of my indignities towards another arise, in part, from my own denial and ignorance. Awakening to the suffering of others and to the unintentional harm I have caused others brings tears to my eyes as well as leaves me floundering in how to apologize.
It is my hope this sharing of Br Phap Man’s video, “Inclusivity and Justice”, is a small step that brings about a healing awakening that overcomes walls of various shapes, formations, and sizes.