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Assimilation & Aggressions

Assimilation and macro/microaggressions are interlinked for me. Being told that you as a whole or something about you is out of the norm results in a feeling to adapt, change and conform to what is considered correct. The earliest memory I have of trying to assimilate goes all the way back to primary school. Aside from being embarrassed by my mum calling me Mukuhi (as I mentioned in my previous blog post), I despised speaking Swahili outside of the house. If my mum spoke to me in in Swahili, I would respond in English and beg her to change too. The more I did this, the less Swahili I spoke and I almost got to a point of forgetting how to speak the language altogether. Imagine. Being bilingual was only acceptable if you could speak a European language and anything other than that was gibberish to other people. I remember clearly on a few instances other children and even adults associating the word 'Swahili' to be gibberish when someone isn't making sense or can't be understood. It only took so many "Are you speaking Swahili?" and "I don’t get why they don’t just speak English if they're living here" for me to decide I didn't want anyone to think of me as being less than because I actually spoke Swahili.

Back to the question of being able to speak English. It's actually audacious to expect every single person that lives in English speaking countries to know the language. If that was the case, every single British expat should certainly have learned Arabic, Spanish, French, Greek, Chinese, Punjabi, Hindi, Thai, Afrikaans, Swahili (the list goes on) before they arrive in the country. But that's the kicker, everyone in the world is expected to know English but other languages aren't so important when it comes to global communication. The absurdity is extremely clear when you consider the difficulty of learning languages, but this consideration is only afforded to native English speakers.

I definitely experienced macroaggressions more in my childhood than adulthood. 1. mainly because children don't often have a filter and 2. the world has become a lot more PC over the course of 15 years. Macroaggressions are usually more overt forms of racism, prejudice and assumptions that are made. Including but not limited to insinuations of inferiority, name-calling and bullying, outright disregard for one's culture etc. I talked more about this in my personal life on a previous post titled Where do we go from here? One common thread that I've noticed when ethnic minorities speak on assimilation, is the Brits' acceptance of a small group of minorities with the ever fascinating line 'but you're not like them, you speak good English and you're just like one of us'. This line has both the power to create division amongst members of the diaspora and enforce extreme pressure to fit in. If all it takes is speaking 'good English' and adopting British ways of living, then you surely have a better case of fighting for inclusion than others who apparently are too far removed. The funny thing is, inclusion will never be truly granted. However, when you consider the cognitive dissonance at play between being who you actually are and how others perceive you to be, it's sadly much simpler to be who others want you to be. The line is enough to make you feel accepted but the white person saying it knows they have the upper hand to keep you at arms length and dictate how you should conduct your life to be fully 'British'.

As innocent as they may seem, microaggressions are insidious lines that worm through people's minds, again, to create narratives of 'us' and 'them'. What do they look like, you ask?

These are the extremely covert forms of racism and prejudice curated to feed into white superiority. Microaggressions stop people from calling out racism as people spend more time wondering if it was said out of genuine interest or hate. But, they're just as violent. They’re everywhere, in shops, at work, in cafes, in schools, on the street, at the hairdressers. If you look closely, you'll notice them plainly. Countless ethnic minorities have tried to report microaggressions to only be told that they can't be proved as anything other than a misunderstanding.

If you're reading some of the examples above and recognise some that you may have said yourself. Here's how to stop yourself:

  1. If you have a question to ask someone, try looking it up on Google first to get your answer.

  2. Ask yourself if you actually care for the answer or are trying to prove a narrative you have heard in the past.

  3. Is it any of your business?

  4. Think of an instance where another person has asked you the same question relating to your culture/way of living life and whether you would think it's odd for them to ask.

Recently, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson proposed the introduction of a new legislation built around strengthening freedom of speech in academic spaces. The legislation seeks to guarantee the ability for people in these institutions to fight for their right of free speech if they have been found to be in breach, in light of intolerance and cancel-culture affecting people's livelihoods. In mine and many other people's opinion, this legislation only strengthens people's ability to be bigoted without repercussions. What stops someone from saying that I'm less qualified than my white counterparts to win an award because Black people are biologically incompetent, claiming they have freedom of speech to express their concerns? Apparently, nothing when the legislation goes through. The news of the legislation only heightened the fear amongst minority groups in academic institutions. A place that is supposed to foster righteous knowledge exchange and create the future's leaders will continue to contribute to violent white supremacist ideologies.

If anything, I hope that this post has empowered you to become more accountable of not only your own actions but the actions of others around you. Thanks for reading my second installation of The Chronicles of a Good Immigrant. For more content, head over to my Instagram and Facebook page. Make sure to like, share and SUBSCRIBE - I have a book review for my subscribers coming this week 👀

Until next time,

D x

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