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Where does it come from?

Racism and discrimination are normalized across our society, meaning that instances of racial trauma and discrimination can happen in a variety of social situations, contexts, interpersonal dynamics, and locations.

This section is to validate your experiences; as people of colour, it is easy to question and doubt small and large discriminatory and unsafe encounters as we have been socialized to pretend that they do not exist in the first place. Under the guise of nationwide multi-culturalism and colour-blindness, people of colour are often contested when they disclose experiences of discrimination, racism, and harm through dismissive phrasing like “you’re misinterpreting the situation”, “I don’t think that is what they meant”, “is that what really happened?” and other harmful phrasing and language. This is usually followed by other racist encounters, covert and overt, that are consistently bumped up against, and for some, this is a daily occurrence. 

Here, we hope to give brief descriptions inside and outside of the classroom, of places and instances where racial trauma can manifest and occur. It is hoped, through these examples and descriptions, that one can begin to: be critically conscious of their surroundings and experiences, name their perpetrators and their actions, and strategize for subjective self-care and social justice. 

Examples of racist encounters inside and outside of the classroom


Microaggressions are indirect and subtle discriminations against members of a marginalized group, such as racial or ethnic minorities. Microaggressions are the most commonly named racist and discriminatory encounters that BIPOC students have in learning spaces. This can come from peers, faculty members, and larger representative bodies of the university. Examples of microaggressions can take the form of:

  • Suggesting that you are an “alien” in their land 
    • e.g. “No, where are you really from? Or where are your parents from originally”
  • Ascriptions of intelligence (assigning intelligence based on colour and race)
    •  e.g. “wow, you’re so articulate”
  • Assumptions of criminal status or criminality based on race 
    • E.g. purse clutching, street crossing, being followed around the story 
  • Questioning heteronormativity 
    • E.g. “Don’t you want to build a family here instead of back home?”
  • Invalidation of cultural identity  
    • E.g. “You speak so well, I wouldn’t have known you were from…”
  • Classism 
    • E.g. “Oh I didn’t think you would’ve attended here” 

Exclusion: Being excluded, not to be made welcome, to be made to feel out of place 

    • E.g. being the only student of colour in the classroom, folks refusing to sit or engage with you, being chosen last or being made to feel burdensome, being told “Oh, I don’t think this group is for you”  

Dismissal: This usually occurs when a microaggression has taken place as a BIPOC person attempts to address it. Gaslighting emotions and attempts to invalidate or dilute the experience is typically underpinned in dismissal

    • Ie. You're just being too sensitive”, eye rolling and heavy sighs, “you’re always so difficult”, “You’re making such a big deal of this”  

Appropriation of points: falling under the larger category of cultural appropriation, appropriation of points often occurs in the classroom and is better known as the “stealing of intellectual property”. This often happens when BIPOC students put forth points in smaller group settings and side bar conversations with faculty, where their thought points and contributions are verbally plagiarized and stolen  

    • E.g. you answer a professor question in class and a white counterpart states the same fact afterwards and is congratulated 
    • E.g. You make suggestion to your department or school and they are taken up and refashioned as initiatives from the department without crediting your insights   

Devil’s advocate: Playing devil's advocate usually occurs in a discussion or debate where another party expresses an opinion that they may or may not agree with, but which is very different to what other people have been saying to make the argument more “interesting”. Often, folks use the playing devil’s advocate for the “love of debate”, to “engage in a critical discussion”, or to “offer other viewpoints”. However, this often occurs for BIPOC students in spaces where they are speaking to and addressing topics of race, racism and racialization. The devil’s advocate then publicly attempts to invalidate and question the person’s point for educational, intellectual, and social gain. 

    • Ie. “I mean I don’t feel this way but it's important to consider…”, “Not to play devil’s advocate but…”, 
    • “I don’t know if that’s necessarily true because I read/saw/heard …”

Silencing: can be considered another form of invalidation and marginalization, often experienced by students of colour to stop them from expressing their views and points. 

    • Ie. talking over and interrupting, stating its not the “time of place for this conversation”, “parking lotting” the conversation

Uncompensated labour: Is an interactive experience where BIPOC students have to educate, address, soothe, and provide resources for white counterparts on topics on race, racism, and racialization. This usually happens in classroom settings when BIPOC students have to defend their race, address racist discourse in the class, intervene in harmful conversations, or self-disclose to educate the group 

    • E.g. consoling white counterparts emotional reactions to topics of race, clarifying stereotypes applied to particular races, disclosing personal experiences to “prove point”, consoling and therapizing other BIPOC students after harmful and unsafe incidents in the classroom 

Explicit discrimination and harm: Usually overt and aggressive racist and discriminatory interactions  

    • E.g. depicting harm on BIPOC bodies for learning examples, outright racial slurs, threats of violence based on race, anonymous racists posters and marketing, instances of racial profiling on campus

Sociopolitical contexts

Most folks know the phrase, “you are not an island."

We like to use this analogy to describe how BIPOC students' experiences are not siloed in the classroom; what is going on in the world around us not only affects and contributes to racial trauma but can also compound the harmful and unsafe experiences that are being had in the classroom. Consideration of socio-political contexts and their effects on your mental health, capabilities, and day-to-day functioning is seldom spoken of and under-addressed. Socio-political contexts are also important to consider as discourse and action can begin to form in your neighbourhood and community, as other people hear the news, process it, and begin to act on it. This can create a feeding ground for your neighbours, classmates, work colleagues, and other folks you interact with to openly express racist tropes, harmful opinions, join discriminatory groups, and influence other covert/overt acts of racism under the guise of “free speech”. This can create real fear, concern, worry, that what may be happening halfway across the world, can happen to you, here at “home”. 

Socio-political events, such as George Floyd's passing and protests, the uncovered bodies of Indigenous children who were forced into Residential Schools (genocidal institutions), the increase in violence against Asian populations in light of racist tropes around COVID-19, the rise of alt-right protests in the US, the Israeli-Palestine violence, or the protest to protect Tamil brothers and sisters, are just a few of several examples of socio-political occurrences and contexts that can affect you. Most BIPOC students associate themselves as being a part of a “collectivist culture”; meaning that, ingrained in our culture are the brother and sisterhood, diasporic migration, sense of community, and collective feelings around social issues of our racial descent and culture. This means we are raised to care, feel, and be affected by things happening around the world that may be a reflection of our race and culture.   

Whether or not you are physically “linked” to what is happening around the world, you can be in mind and spirit, meaning it can become increasingly difficult to process and internally resolve the harms that can be occurring within the population of people you identify with, because they are a reflection of you, your family, and your loved one’s. When the weight of sociopolitical contexts and nearby discourse and action is carried with us, it can compound feelings of burnout, fear, disengagements, and other symptoms of racial trauma.

Intersectional experiences

As briefly mentioned, holding an intersectional identity can increase your susceptibility and exposure to racist and discriminatory actions, speech, and interactions.

It has been widely shown that intersections between race and: gender, disability, immigration, sexuality and gender identity, religiosity, mental health concerns, substance use, and employment/housing precarity, can increase daily experiences of discrimination and racial trauma. 

Being aware of your social location may assist in unpacking experiences and externalizing the harmful interactions that may be experienced. Social location is a combination of factors such as race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, geographic location, etc. that is particular to each individual that creates nuanced and subjective experiences in society. Some sites of intersection hold privilege and other sites hold oppression. These are not to be considered as “additive” or separate but rather in confluence or combination with each other; these create different experiences for all of us when navigating the world.  

For example; the opportunities and interactions for a white, cis-gendered, heteronormative, able-bodied male would be very different from that of a, say, Black, transgendered, physically impaired woman. This is due to the underpinnings of society that elevates and fashions whiteness and other factors and intersections of “deservingness” into our policy and procedure, social contracts, and canadian cultural “beliefs”. This script and messaging around “deservingness” will often come across as microaggressions, dismissals, silencing and the other definitions we listed above, not overtly named as a product of race and other intersections. 

Therefore having a working knowledge of your intersections and your social location can be used as a buffering and self-preservative tool but also as a tool for advocacy; to name what is happening in the room, to find pride in one’s self and accompany intersections, to externalize the issues, and to change the discourse for others who may or may not share your experiences.