During our reflection session on Sunday, one of the questions that Miguel asked us was, “Who were your greatest teachers during this trip?” — which gave me the idea to use this last post to talk about something important I learned and about my teachers throughout our DukeEngage-Miami experience.
During this trip, I learned the most powerful lesson, a mantra that I always hear but never really thought I had to heed and live by. Stand up for yourself. My natural reaction to harm is to laugh, brush it off, and move on. Very few people go through life intentionally trying to hurt others, I always tell myself, so I shouldn’t be so caught up in what people say and do. Unfortunately, this reaction immediately masks and erases any pain inflicted, any disrespect given. My insides get shaken up a little, but I move on, and so does the other person.
When Miguel asked us who our teachers were during this trip, we all turned our heads to Sanjidah. She taught me to ask the questions: Would I be treated this way if I wasn’t a person of color? Would I be treated this way if I were a man? She taught me how power relations and power structures in society reflect in even the simplest, everyday interactions. Sometimes, they manifest explicitly, but most of the time, they live as assumptions that we live by. Assumptions are unspoken and unwritten, but they are rules that dictate whether a man feels entitled to interrupting a woman or whether a man feels confident explaining something to a woman, assuming she doesn’t know — until we are tired and even convinced that the man is better, that the whiteness is better.
I never truly understood microaggressions, how commonplace they were, and how they affected people — either because I was never a victim or more likely because I never noticed. The way I was treated and the assumptions that people have about me were the norm of my lived realities. I am an Asian female, both identities historically regarded as submissive and docile. And it wasn’t until this trip that I realized my non-confrontational demeanor did nothing to better that misconception. So, I had many teachers, whether they had intended to teach or not. And in the most unexpected way and from the most unexpected person, I learned a very powerful lesson. I stood up for myself, and I hope I was a teacher to others, too.