You may have crossed paths with these weird comments while traveling abroad or meeting someone from a different country.
From the most common "where is your accent from" or "where are you really from" to the less common and more targeted "You don't look _____(insert country name...or religion!)______" to the in your face "are you in this country legally?" to the pitiful speaking s..l...o...w...e...r because you are from a different country even though for the past ten minutes, you were having a conversation at normal speed with no problems.
My personal favorite is the following:
"you speak English so well. Where did you learn English?"
"At school, growing up in Egypt"
"What? they have schools in Egypt?"
Personally, I take these comments lightly and offer a brief, well-intentioned explanation, which is well received most of the time. But I understand how easy it is to feel insulted when people respond to your identity in this way. It stings a little even if we respond lightly.
In my experience so far, most people mean well. It may be their way to showing interest or trying to move the conversation forward. They don't mean to insult. The situation - in my eyes - does not merit making a bit deal out of it. You know, if they really mean to insult, they will keep poking. In my 21 years of living abroad, I have not met anyone who was deliberately trying to insult me.
So, why am I bringing this up? Because schools have a different idea in mind these days.
Under the title of "micro-racism", "microaggression", or "micro-insults" schools are having discussions with students about recognizing and reacting to such comments.
This is a tricky move.
If children are taught to recognize such comments as insults or racism, then they will learn to be insulted when they hear them. That's exactly what happened.
At a sports event, two girls meeting for the first time strike a conversation:
- "I like your necklace"
- "Thank you, I got it as a bat mitzvah gift"
- "You don't look Jewish"
end of conversation and potential friendship.
Is this what we are trying to achieve here?
I hope not.
I hope we can see past these "microinsults" and teach our children to see them for what they are; micro. Instead of teaching children how to feel insulted even from passerby comments, maybe it is better to teach them how to use these comments to bridge a cultural gap. We are all different and there is a lot of value in our differences. We would all be in a much better place if we focus on the value of our differences rather than ways to feel insulted by them.
It is all about intention.
Most people have good intentions even when they say things that are considered "microinsults".
Most people have control over how they intentionally react to these comments.
Let's teach our children to see opportunities and set their intentions in positive and constructive ways.