Chinese people consist of the majority—Han and other 55 ethnic minorities, such as Hui, also called Muslim Chinese. Han and Hui have different living customs. For example, Hui are forbidden to eat pork while pork is the most common meat consumed by Han.
In my high school, there were two dinning rooms: a big one for Han students, and the other small one for Hui students. I had dinner with my friend-Qian, who was Hui, but stayed with me in Han Chinese dinning room on that day. I enjoyed my pork dish, and wanted to share it with her but she refused. Qian explained, “I am Hui people, we do not eat pork.” I did not give up and said, “Come on, I have known you for ages, we are the same, we are all Chinese people. I can not see any differences.” My friend began to keep silent, and I kept persuading her, “just try one slice of the pork, they are really delicious”. However, my friend frowned and said “I can not eat it. The smell of the pork makes me sick”.
After hearing her words, I stopped persuading her to eat pork because I did not want to make her uncomfortable. Then we began to talk other topics.
I was unaware that what I committed was a microaggression at that time. Microaggressions are verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional happening in daily life, conveying communicating hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color (Sue et al., 2007). In this case, I did not see ethnic differences and persuaded my friend to have same food with me, communicating the subtle derogative meaning to my friend.
In order to analyze the power issue, the author would like to discuss the status of agent and target first. In China, Hui identify themselves ethnically as Muslim, and most of them are practitioners of Islam (Chuah, 2012). Hui is considered as an ethnic minority, which is the target group, while the author represents as Han—the majority, which is the agent group. Since the distinctions between ethnicity and race are far more from clear-cut, it is more useful to consider ethnic and racial theories of identity formation together rather than as separate parts (Miller & Garran, 2008). So the author considers the ethnicity and race as the same analysis unit. To illustrate easily, an equivalent example given in the United States is color blindness, for example, when a white man says to a black man, “When I look at you, I do not see color. We are the same”.
As color blindness tries to deny a person of color’s racial experiences, I committed the same kind of microaggression—microinvalidation, to nullify the experiential reality of an ethnical minority (Sue et al., 2007). When I said “We are the same, we are all Chinese ”, the real message here is “You are as same as me, I am Han— the majority, your culture and eating customs have to assimilate to my eating customs, you should eat pork just like me.” Therefore, though I wanted to share food with Qian, the underlying message was to deny her ethnic experiences with my unconscious majority privilege and power.
It is all about power. Agent status denotes power, privilege and the capacity to determine what is “normal” (Miller & Garran, 2008). In this case, only I have the capacity to decide what the normal Chinese food is, and what does “delicious food” mean. In addition, though I was unaware of my privileges, but I was aware of my majority status in China. So the personal belief behind these words is that I was superior to my friend—Qian. It gave me a feeling of proud. On the contrary, Qian’s Muslim customs was nullified, and her feeling toward eating pork was oppressed. What is more, it is interesting that the power can not be reversed between agent and target group. For example, Hui people have never pushed me to try their food no matter they thought their food was delicious or how strongly they wanted…