What are microaggressions? And how to work with (invisible) racism? Are you interested to find about new approaches and tools you can use in your everyday work? If yes, continue reading!

Within the European Academy on Youth Work, we have started with a short series of “Innovative practices of the week” to share with you some of the contributions that will be presented in the 2nd Edition of the European Academy on Youth Work that will happen in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, from 31st May – 3rd June. This time, we talked with Aga Byrzek, one of the EAYW contributors, who shared with us what their projects related to (invisible) racism and other microaggresions are all about. Enjoy reading! 


What is your practice about?

The project focuses on working with young people to raise awareness about their own microaggressions, and reduce the level of acceptance towards this practice, which is harmful, and in the same time so common, frequent and normalized. Exploring racial microaggressions (or invisible racism) allows us to see the magnitude of the problem with racism, the levels in which it is embedded in our societies, the harmful consequences it has on minorities and the need for proactive measures to eliminate it. The project was developed by Cazalla Intercultural together with various partners from different countries.


What problem or situation inspired the development of your practice?

For many years, we have seen behaviours that were not considered violence, but that were fostering a lot of stereotypes and feelings of exclusion, such as jokes. We have observed racist actions, which were invisible to the majority of the population, such as different prices in bars for migrants. This motivated us to investigate the topic further and to hypothesize that by addressing microaggressions, we can prevent the most severe expressions of racism.


What is the concrete outcome that you will present at the Academy?

The concrete outcome of the project is a set of educational resources, giving professionals working with young people both, a more comprehensive conceptual framework and concrete educational tools. To name two main ones – a manual CONSTELLATIONS for working with young people on the topic of racism and invisible racism, and the massive online open course ¨Make it visible¨.


Why is this practice important and what makes it different from similar projects in this field in your country or the region?

The concept of microaggressions has been studied in U.S., but not in Europe, and definitely there were no tools to work on those concepts with young people. During our investigation and based on the research done in U.S., we learnt that microaggressions can be as harmful as any other type of violence, with the slight difference, that microaggressions are normalized and widely accepted.


Which concrete challenges did you need to overcome in order to develop this practice?

We faced some challenges to enter schools in various countries. In some cases, we had to promote workshops, for example about values or equality, rather than invisible racism or microaggressions, since those concepts were not understood, or not welcome in schools.


What kind of support did you receive from other actors outside your organisation?

Depending on the countries, we got support from local authorities to access schools to test our approach. We also received some co-financing from other donors besides the Erasmus+ grant. In particular, the cross-sectoral cooperation between the formal and non-formal education sectors was important. Finally, we developed a huge network of civil society organisations thanks to this project, both on the international level, as on national level in all the participating countries.


Which conditions, resources and/or competences present in your organisation were the most important to influence the creation and development of the practice?

First of all, many of us working behind this practice have experience of being a migrant, a very privileged type of European migrant, but still a migrant, as well as of belonging to other excluded groups, and we have experienced many types of microaggressions on our own skin. This definitely was the factor that pushed us to work on this topic. And if we talk about the competences, it will be creativity, team support, teamwork, and braveness to look for not the easiest solutions.


How do you envisage this practice to grow in the future and what resources do you need in order to do so?

The practice is already growing. Although the project has finished over a year ago, we are still receiving information from people using our content. We have been contacted by other organisations, asking us for permission to translate the manual to new languages. What is still needed is a more systemic approach, if we dream, maybe adding those topics to the official school curriculum.


Where can people find more information about your practice?

CONSTELLATIONS manual: https://www.salto-youth.net/tools/toolbox/tool/constellations.2998/

Online course (MOOC) https://youth-mooc.eu/courses/make-it-visible/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/STARprojectKA3

Aga Byrcek, agabyrczek@gmail.com


You’re interested to learn and exchange more about current developments and innovative practices in youth work? The call to participate in the EAYW online is still open until 20th May HERE.