Let's talk about microaggressions

So, what’s a microaggression anyway?

In the event you’ve been living under a rock, have no fear, it happens to the best of us and it’s always better to learn late than never at all. According to Psychology Today, microaggressions are the everyday verbal and nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or derogatory comments to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (i.e. ethnicity, religion, sex).

Can we get some examples?

A familiar example to point out is when people ask the question “What are you?” in relation to one’s heritage rather than their actual birth place. For instance, I have repeatedly been asked, “Where are you from?” to which I’m all Jersey baby, fuck yeah. But then, after my amorous show of affection for the great state of NJ, I am often rebutted with “No, where are you really from¸ though?” as if I’m lying and actually arrived via shipping container from somewhere in southeast China. Pretty much anyone who isn’t obviously white has been asked this question before.

Other examples of microaggressions include but are not limited to: asking a lesbian if she’s ever had “real sex,” assuming a black man is dangerous, telling a black or hispanic person that they’re “like, unusually articulate and well-spoken,” calling a Jewish person “cheap,” etc. And microaggressions aren’t just verbal, either. My best friend sent me this awesome article that discusses how Asians are often confused with one another by fellow coworkers. This has happened to me at literally every job I have ever had and it is absolutely a type of microaggression.

Do only white people commit microaggressions?

In a word: NO. I have a point of contention with some of the current discussion around this topic because it seems that many articles are primarily (or solely) calling attention to white people.

While white men take the metaphorical cake in greeting me with “Konnichiwa” or assuming I can’t speak English, they’re far from being the only race guilty of doing so. I’m just saying, if we are going to have this talk, let’s be real about it. “Microagressors” are pervasive and everyone should become more aware of how they treat others.

How do people feel about microaggressions?

First off, microaggressions are real. They hurt and suppress people in ways that words have always hurt and suppressed people. That said, the prefix “micro” is in there for a reason. The same people who question where I’m “really” from are rarely the same people who call me a chink or go about committing violent hate crimes. Racism, as with all forms of prejudice, has a spectrum. For me, microaggressions fall on the less-serious end of that spectrum.

How do we deal with microaggressions?

Personally, my response to microaggressors varies: sometimes I’ll gently (or not-so-gently) call people out. Other times, I let it go if I don’t have the energy for it. Either way, I don’t feel bad regardless of which route I take. Of course, other people feel and react differently, and who am I to judge? If someone is devastated by a continuous stream of microaggressions (as many are), they have a right to those feelings and to speaking out about it. Regardless of your stance, though, I would encourage you to keep the following points in mind:

1.     People who commit microaggressions are intellectually inferior. It’s the truth. I grew up with the mentality that people who asked me questions like “can you see a full picture with such small eyes?” were either 1. innocent children or two, 2. stupid.

2.     I believe that a good deal of microaggressors are not malicious. Does it mean they get a free pass? Of course not. Let’s not confuse this with sympathizing with aggressors and blaming victims. I simply mention this because some aggressions and aggressors may warrant different responses than others, and that’s perfectly okay. The point is to be open to teaching and open to learning.

What now? You tell me. Leave your comments or questions below.

Here's to making progress, together!

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