These are a few of my favourite words… ‘Microaggression’

I’ve noticed that the term microaggression has been all over the blogs I read in the last few weeks. The reasons for these trends sometimes defy me (any ideas?), but it’s good. It’s good. Because it takes a lot of time to explain what a microaggression is, and way less time to say “microaggression”. From wikipedia:

Microaggression… focuses on interactions experienced as non-physical aggression. It involves demeaning implications and other subtle insults.[1][2]Microaggressions have been defined as, “…brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”[3] The term “microaggression” was originally coined by Chester M. Pierce in the 1970s in terms of racial microaggression [4]…. Other marginalized groups experience microaggression. Microaggression may be perpetuated on the basis of gendersexual orientation, and ability status [and socio-economic class, nationality, immigration status, gender identity, body type, etc…].[9]

In the peer education group I facilitate, the first microaggression happened in our first meeting of the year. One new member was obviously feeling a little on the outside of the socializing happening about summer vacation. So she decided to kick start a conversation with another member (who’s mother is Taiwanese and father is white) by saying “Hey, you’re Asian. I ate rice for lunch today.” Or something ridiculous like that. As if he was going to feel real close to her because of her lunch.

Want more examples (including some that are more subtle)? I have a new blog love in When someone experiences a micro-aggression, they can submit it to be posted. And be witnessed, which is cool. I think it can be really informative as well. If someone feels like they’ve got some learning to do on picking up on the more subtle microaggressions, they can spend some time reading through peoples’ experiences. One of those great ways to cultivate our own allyship without asking targets to expend their energy to teach what hurts.

A few more examples from (many of which don’t feel that micro to me, really):

  • “Well, I wanted to go to Columbia, but of course I didn’t get in because I’m a middle-class white guy.” A post-doctoral student in my graduate program, to me, a minority woman who went to a prestigious school.
  • My mom told me today in a mall parking lot that she could still see me with a man someday. I’m a 22 year-old straight-looking lesbian.
  • My manager calls me over to the front desk to translate for someone. I speak Cantonese, the customer speaks Khmer.  Manager:: “Well aren’t Asian languages all similar to each other?”
  • I travel frequently as part of my job coordinating a nationwide program. On a recent flight, the flight attendant offered beverages to every other person within my earshot by saying, “To drink, Ma’am?” or “to drink, sir?” When she got to me, she asked, “To drink, baby girl?” I am forty-ish and was dressed in business attire.  There is little doubt that my blindness was the reason. Made me feel condescended to, infantilized, not taken seriously, pitied, singled out.
  • “The people I feel most sorry for in America are white men. They can’t do or say ANYTHING without someone getting upset.” A friend, after I scoffed at a white man on the radio saying that people of colour just need to learn to relax.
  • Having to constantly think of how my actions are perceived to others to make sure I seem as non-threatening as I possibly can be. No raising my voice, always pleasant, and acting as if I have to be the ambassador for people of color just because your perception of us is rife with horrible generalizations. All of this so I can actually get my foot in the door anywhere I go. Makes me feel TIRED.
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2 Responses to These are a few of my favourite words… ‘Microaggression’

  1. Sarahbeth says:

    helpful and informative dear friend.

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