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Little Fish, Big Sea

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By Becky Dudley

For many people in minority groups, life is a constant struggle of swimming against the tide. I’m not talking about the big things: the tsunamis and sharks of racism, transphobia, sexism, homophobia and so on. All of those issues are, obviously, huge and dangerous and wholly important. However, they are not the only creatures lurking in an ocean that doesn’t quite accept you. Even when we avert these dangers, we are fighting currents: the small reminders that we are, really, very tiny tiddlers in a vast and mighty sea.

Many people will have no idea what I’m talking about. To put it in simpler language, I’m referring to the subtle everyday battles that so often get lost beneath the bigger picture. For those who fit into societal majorities, these are simply not things you’d think about. Fair enough. More saddeningly, for those facing such issues, they’re rarely noticed – after all, we don’t notice each breath, each heartbeat. It’s just life. The things I’m talking about are the simple discriminations that happen every day – often perpetrated by people who have no intention to discriminate.

A quick ask around my friends proved that, when we stopped to think, we could easily come up with plenty of examples. Someone even suggested a term: micro-aggressions. A quick search on the internet, and I found a Wikipedia definition for micro-aggressions – ‘a form of unintended discrimination’. That’s exactly the definition I was looking for. To paint a better picture, microaggressions are when I mention my girlfriend, and people raise their eyebrows or do a small double-take; they’re when people assume that, because I’m a girl, I must have certain interests or hobbies. These people aren’t trying to discriminate: many of them are completely with me in my fight for equality. They’ve just been socialised to think a certain way – and I don’t fit in with their norms.

Of course, I can only speak from my experience. Maybe it’s just me who picks up on these things and takes them to heart. Much to the contrary, as mentioned above, a post on a Facebook group revealed a wealth of examples. A further search found a Tumblr dedicated to identifying micro-aggressions. The main tags seem to be ‘race’, ‘class’, ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’, with hundreds of posts under each one. Obviously, these microaggressions are everywhere – and yet, they’re something that rarely gets mentioned outside of spaces such as the internet.

The main argument for the silence around this is, I’m guessing, that they’re not important. There will always be bigger issues – the aforementioned sharks and tsunamis of the isms and the phobias. There is out and out discrimination to deal with, and it kills people every single day. I can see why it feels that there is no time to deal with the small things. After all, even the name is micro-aggressions. However, I think these things are bigger than we give them credit for.

Firstly, fighting unintentional discrimination, even if we don’t realise we’re fighting it, is exhausting. It leaves us feeling demoralised and plain tired – often without knowing why. That makes fighting the bigger things even more difficult. Moreover, to my mind at least, there is no separating the big things and the little things- I can’t see there being any way of us getting rid of one and not the other, for they feed into each other.

So. What’s the point of this blog? Well, I’m trying to get everyone to look at the world around them in a new light – not in a hopeless one, but in a critical one. Think about yourself, and the others around you. Think about the stereotypes, the representation, the language. Think about whether everyone in your corner of the world is being treated completely equally, or if there’s a chance that they, too, are fighting these undercurrents. Mostly, challenge it. Be the bigger fish, and swim against the tide. Together, we can rid the world of seaweed, and escape to the beautiful coral reef.

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