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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

Manners and Microaggressions

“That man has no brought-upsy.”

That’s what I would hear my Jamaican mother mutter when she witnessed rude behavior in another adult.

(You have to imagine the accent.)

The expression implies that bad manners reflected shamefully on the whole family. That message landed heavy on me growing up. We were expected to behave respectfully when out and about, and especially when interacting with adults—and extra specially with elders.

The rules of etiquette were a basic part of growing up: your “brought-upsy.”

I think about that expression sometimes when I talk about microaggressions—or when I experience them.

“Where are you from? I mean, where are you really from?”

“Can I touch your hair? It’s so exotic!”

“Your name is so long. Mind if I call you Molly instead?”

All-too-common comments like these—or any of the other momentary triggers faced by people in marginalized groups—seem like “no big deal” to the people perpetrating them. But they create a chronic feeling of otherness for those targeted.

Another way to put it? They are rude.

And they could actually be prevented if folks would just use good manners.

In Jamaica, your “good brought-upsy” would have taught you that it’s rude to highlight what you perceive as people’s differences if you don’t know them. You wouldn’t ask intrusive questions. You wouldn’t cut in front of them in line, or let a door slam in someone’s face. You wouldn’t mispronounce their name.

(I was going to say you wouldn’t interrupt someone—but actually, in Jamaica it was insensitive not to interrupt. It implies you aren’t engaged in the conversation!)

If we recall our early lessons in manners, and treat others with respect, we would go a long way toward reducing the interpersonal irritants that fall especially hard on women and people of color, as well as so many other people not associated with the dominant group.

We are always relearning our good manners.

But of course it’s not that simple. Stereotypes and biased ideology are also part of the “brought-upsy” we get in today’s world.

So while we all want to be respectful to others, we don’t always see everybody as equally worthy of respect.

We are always relearning our good manners, even as adults. And when I call someone by the wrong name, or make a false assumption about where someone is from, I hear my mother disapprove in her beautiful accent.

“Where is your brought-upsy!”


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