“Your English is great for an immigrant. You don’t have that thick African accent.”

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

This is a statement I heard recently that is one of the microaggressions we hear in our everyday lives. It hurts when Mainers think they should put their dogs in the basement when I visit. Or not bring red and white wine to the dining table when we are having dinner. The assumption is that a Muslim man would hate both. This affirms the common stereotype of a minority community.

While it is common knowledge that ethnic slurs are unacceptable in classrooms and workplaces these days, one area we are not looking at is unintentional comments that can have a negative impact on someone. Microaggressions are very common, but not talked about as much. What may sound like a compliment to one person sometimes hurts another’s feelings. Microaggressions are very common in schools and workplaces, where Mainers often have predetermined perceptions of newly arrived immigrants.

I remember one time a student in my college class casually asked me if I will have four wives since that is what Muslims do. This same talk has come up a few more times, and despite my rejection of polygamy, people can only see me in how the group behaves, not for my individual choices and beliefs.

Microaggressions happen casually, frequently and often without any harm intended, with demeaning hidden messages that stem from unconscious biases. When my dear friends keep their dog in the basement during my visit and they actually think that will make me happy, it becomes a microaggression that hurts me in some ways. The common misconception is that Muslims do not like to touch a dog or a pet, but despite what many Mainers think, I still give belly rubs to cute dogs I see on the street.

Those of us who experience microaggressions on a daily basis often feel judged, misunderstood, excluded, disrespected, vulnerable and, at times, unsafe. Microaggression is referred to by some as “death by a thousand cuts.” This can also cause the person to have a stress response and, over time, can negatively affect health. People who are often subjected to microaggressions also become disengaged at work or school and experience burnout. In one instance, a co-worker thought I knew all about guns since he had seen the movie “Black Hawk Down.”

Simple phrases such as referring to a group of people as “you people” are an example of microaggressions. It is very common, even with progressive Mainers, to unconsciously affirm a stereotype about a minority group, presume that all minority group members are the same and so treat them all the same. “Meet me at the coffee shop; I want you to meet my other Somali friend,” a dear friend once messaged me. I wondered if she might have been thinking that a Somali needs help meeting another Somali?

We must actively combat these commonplace daily verbal or environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slurs. It should start at schools and workplaces by offering microaggression training to make sure everyone is educated on how different types of racial or other types of microaggressions impact the lives of people of color and New Mainers.

I personally took microaggression training to find out how I should approach someone after realizing a microaggression happened. When a new friend thought I was from Sudan – and this happened a couple of times – I had to approach and ask why they thought I was from Sudan. I did not even know this could qualify as a microaggression, but when the same mistake happened twice, it made me think people don’t really hear when I say where I am from. Or maybe they just don’t care.

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