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Tudung-wearing woman who works at S’pore Google office asked if she works in the canteen

Such stereotypes are not welcomed.

Belmont Lay |Sulaiman Daud | April 6, 12:34 pm

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A Singaporean woman, Atikah Amalina, who goes by the handle @thetudungtraveller, has spoken up about her experience of having a stereotype foisted on her.

She shared her experience in a Facebook post on April 5:

Google employee

Atikah is a Google employee and a known mental health advocate who has written about the topic publicly.

Therefore, what was most galling about her recent experience was the immediate assumption that she must be a canteen staff when she boarded a private hire car.

She revealed that the conversation took place with the driver of the private hire car the moment she hopped on.

She wrote about how the conversation transpired:

“Oh you work in the canteen ah in Google?”
I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. “Canteen?”
“Yeah, the food court upstairs.”
Took me a moment to process what he said and the implications.
“No, I work in Google.”
“Oh.”

Feeling hurt, the conversation thankfully ended immediately.

Presumptuous

Atikah revealed her feelings at that moment:

My immediate feelings were a confusion of humiliation, anger and indignation. Just because I’m a Malay woman in hijab, it was immediately assumed that I work in the canteen when he picked me up at the office – because surely, someone like me cannot be working in Google, right? Wrong. I was very obviously upset, and the driver didn’t say anything after that.

She was also quick to clarify that there is “nothing wrong with working in a canteen”, as she was pointing out that the faux pas committed by the driver is considered part of “racial microagressions” that occur frequently enough.

Atikah wrote:

There’s nothing wrong about working in a canteen, let’s be clear about that, but racial microagressions like this is draining, unfair and points towards stereotypes and judgements made by virtue of your perceived race/group. For some one of us, this is a daily occurrence, and it. is. tiring.

Consciousness raising

Atikah spent the rest of her post offering her take on how to raise the consciousness of those who are not too clued-in.

But for those who are aware, they can play their part by calling out such behaviour — even if it means making the perpetrator feel uncomfortable — as well as being mindful enough not to be part of it.

Atikah wrote:

The key here is the unawareness of the communicator, and how it may be seen as trivial and one-off. But here’s the thing: microaggressions are active manifestations or a reflection of our worldviews of inclusion/exclusion, superiority/inferiority, and desirability/undesirability. Much of this is outside the level of conscious awareness, thus we engage in actions that unintentionally oppress and discriminate against others.

It has to be noted that at no point in her post did she refer to such microaggressions as being racist.

You can read her full post here:

Today I got into a Grab/Gojek car from the office, and the driver, in the spirit of making conversation, asked:

“Oh you work in the canteen ah in Google?”
I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. “Canteen?”
“Yeah, the food court upstairs.”
Took me a moment to process what he said and the implications.
“No, I work in Google.”
“Oh.”

My immediate feelings were a confusion of humiliation, anger and indignation. Just because I’m a Malay woman in hijab, it was immediately assumed that I work in the canteen when he picked me up at the office – because surely, someone like me cannot be working in Google, right? Wrong. I was very obviously upset, and the driver didn’t say anything after that.

There’s nothing wrong about working in a canteen, let’s be clear about that, but racial microagressions like this is draining, unfair and points towards stereotypes and judgements made by virtue of your perceived race/group. For some one of us, this is a daily occurrence, and it. is. tiring.

What are microaggresions?

Microaggressions are the brief and everyday slights, insults, and denigrating messages sent to people perceived to be of particular groups by well-intentioned others who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated. Sometimes they are casual jokes, offhand remarks and thoughtless behaviour.

These messages may be sent verbally (“Oh you work in the canteen?/ That female leader is such a bitch”), nonverbally (moving seats when someone of a particular race, religion or gender sit next to you) or environmentally (a workplace that is predominantly a single group, conversations that are done in a language that excludes some in the workplace). Microaggressions can be based upon any group that is marginalized in this society – racial, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability etc.

The key here is the unawareness of the communicator, and how it may be seen as trivial and one-off. But here’s the thing: microaggressions are active manifestations or a reflection of our worldviews of inclusion/exclusion, superiority/inferiority, and desirability/undesirability. Much of this is outside the level of conscious awareness, thus we engage in actions that unintentionally oppress and discriminate against others.

So what can we do? If you’ve read through all of this, great – you’re aware of this now. We’re living in a diverse society, and we take up varying and changing spaces of privilege – microaggressions *will* happen. Be conscious of this and pick up when it happens. Check yourself. Feel empowered to point it out and correct it, or reframe the conversation. Be an ally to whoever the recipient of the microaggression and remove the burden of having them address it themselves. If and when you get pointed out, be gracious, apologise and try to understand why whatever you said or did was felt as offensive.

If you have ever faced any microaggressions, it is valid if you felt anger, upset, or also confused because you didn’t know how to react. If you react, you might be seen as too sensitive or intolerant. Like, how can you say “Hey, that’s mean,” without ‘hurting or offending’ the person who uttered the remark? How can you call it out without further cementing your outsider-ness in a group?

It’s messy and there’s no right or clean answer to this. But a good first step is to be aware of it and not accept it as normal. We can do better than accepting and perpetuating damaging stereotypes and discrimination.

I know I challenged someone’s stereotype today when I corrected him and I honestly don’t know what effect it will have on him. But I do know this: If you’re ever in a position to break stereotypes and create a new normal that will uplift others, please, go ahead and do it and do it well.

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About Belmont Lay

Belmont can pronounce "tchotchke".

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