“But where are you really from?”  Five subtle acts of aggression to leave in 2022 

By Rob Adediran


Looking ahead to 2023  

The new year brings with it a call to make resolutions of changes we want to make in the coming year. This might involve getting a new job, picking up a new hobby, or simply drinking more water each day.  

But, what about if we used this time to reflect on some habits and turns of phrase we can leave in 2022? One of these could be the ‘microaggressions’ that shape the way many marginalised groups experience the workplace and conversation.  

What do we mean when we talk about ‘microaggressions’?  

Microaggressions are ‘a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).’ These include comments such as those that took the news in recent weeks where one of the late Queen of England’s Ladies-in-Waiting, Lady Susan Hussey, repeatedly asked Ngozi Fulani where she was ‘really’ from. This persistent questioning to Fulani, a Black British charity boss, implied that her answer that she was born in the UK was unbelievable or insufficient. This behaviour stems from a racist perception that only white people are British. Questions and phrases such as this are understanably offensive and exhausting to those who are subjected to them.  

This is just one example of aggressive behaviour that is offensive.  

At Included, we also want to challenge our Diversity and Inclusion community to go further – should we leave the ‘micro’ from microaggressions in 2022?  

Aggressions to leave in 2022  

Rather than picking up (and then forgetting) new habits for 2023, why not put down some bad ones we have seen in the news – and no doubt the office – over the past 12 months. 

  1. The first aggression to say farewell to has to be the question we’ve rasied above: where are you really from…? If you’re not sure what is wrong with this question this blog from Isabelle Khoo sums it up really well. 
  1. Second, let’s leave sexist and ableist jokes, sorry ‘hilarious banter’, in 2022. Frankly, it’s a shame these weren’t left in 1972. 
  1. Third, calling one of the Black people in your office by the name of another is lazy, rude and we can do better! This also goes for media outlets using photos of Black people, mainly men, interchangeably.  
  1. Fourth, let’s stop interrupting women (we know that men have the most interesting point of view, but guys, it is nice to share sometimes). You can use ‘Is a man talking?’ in meetings to track who is dominating the conversation.  
  1. In fact, let’s double down on our support for women by refusing to undermine women’s achievements, even if they are national leaders. 

How can we bring others on this journey of change?  

It’s crucial to not only build this change in ourselves but also bring our colleagues and peers along with us. When we hear comments like this, let’s kindly and succinctly remind our peers of the impact of these actions and why we should retire these phrases and habits.  

However, if actions like these aggressions are persistent, they must be dealt with appropriately. In the workplace, this can look like involving HR or escalating a concern or looking to introduce training such as anti-racism workshops.  

Listen to the people in your life  who experience these aggressions to understand how they would feel most supported as individuals – there is often no ‘one size fits all’ approach here.  

The impact of aggressions 

You might think these acts of aggression happen to people in majority groups as well those in minoritised groups, and you would be right, they do. But the impact is hugely different. Many people in minoritised groups experience daily acts of aggression from people who are certainly nice – but are also being thoughtless. Being inclusive is intentional, we actually have to do something!

So let’s leave unintentional aggression in 2022 and take with us Lizzo’s example of sharing your platform (sequins and all) with those who are leading us to somewhere better in 2023.