“Micro”aggression, Larger Problem

Microaggressions are defined as seemingly harmless, everyday comments or actions that send degrading messages to certain individuals because of their race or their group they identify with. All White people are guilty of microaggressions, and most of the time we (White people) don’t even know that we said them or perpetuated them, because that hasn’t been our experience. Well, it is time to acknowledge our mistakes no matter how small or insignificant they seem to us; because it is a huge issue that plagues the lives of people of color and weighs down upon them more and more every day, to the surprise and shock of White people, including me. I am completely guilty of racial microaggressions, and like the rest of us I didn’t even realize it until I learned about them in detail. They take on so many different forms and seem so insignificant and even innocent that we genuinely believe two things: that what we are saying isn’t in fact racist at all, and that what we are saying can be laughed off or is minor enough that it won’t have an impact.

Microaggressions come in three forms, and these forms contain different themes that bear the weight of why they are so detrimental and degrading to people of color. The first category of microaggressions are microassaults, which are completely conscious, and either subtle or blatant acts of racism or racial comments. This can also be referred to as “old-fashioned” racism; it is completely intentional and is meant to hurt a person of color. An example of this is using the n-word to refer to a Black person. The second category are called microinsults, which are the ones that White people commit nearly every day, without even realizing it. These are typically unconscious, but they are comments that are subtle enough that they just about imply stereotypical or rude connotations towards people of color, and White people often become defensive if they are called out for them. For example, microinsults could include themes like ascription of intelligence, which essentially implies that people of color are not expected to be smart, and it comes as a shock to White people when they are. The third category of microaggressions are microinvalidations, which are defined as means of communicating the denial of a person of color’s reality. They challenge and turn down the psychological thoughts and feelings of a minority group’s lived experiences. To provide an example, the idea of “colorblindness” falls under this category. Claiming to “not see color” invalidates that person’s experiences as a minority and further gives White people a reason not to directly confront the topic of race.

I genuinely wanted to learn more about microaggressions. I want to learn as much as I can so I can catch myself in the act and begin to change my words, thoughts and actions. I began looking through mainstream articles to see what they had to say about microaggressions, and came across a Buzzfeed article entitled “21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis” by Heben Nigatu. She wrote about a student who went around to different students of color and had them write out things that had been said to them regarding their race. A couple statements that stuck out the most to me included, “No, where are you really from?” and  “The limited representation of my race in your classroom does not make me the voice of all Black people.” I think these stood out the most to me because they are just so common. We assume that people of color really aren’t from here; they can’t be, because they’re not White. Why do we think this way? And even in my classes at Muhlenberg, people of color are so outnumbered by White people that we really look to them to be the voice of the minority experience. Why do we generalize one person’s experience to that of an entire race? This struck me.

21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear on a Daily Basis

As I finished the article and scrolled through the comments, I was thrown off by a few. One in particular read,

“Oh Boo hoo. People in other nations are literally scrounging up food on a daily basis. These spoiled children are holding these signs are examples of ‘First World Problems’ whiners. GET OVER IT! I’m not sorry if someone in their attempt to communicate with another human doesn’t whip out their list of ‘neutral, boring, robot like speak’ questions deemed safe (by whom??) in order to engage in dialogue with you.”

I genuinely had to step back from my laptop after reading this comment. Mostly because the White man who, in commenting on an article about microaggressions, wrote out an actual microaggression toward all 21 students that were attempting to point out why what he just said is a microaggression. His particular comment is actually a microinvalidation, because it is essentially denying these people of color their lived experiences as parts of minority groups. He is trying to invalidate the fact that they are actually experiencing comments and words that are hurting them. It is people like this who need to become more educated, and actually take the time to learn about subjects like this before they comment on them. This leaves me with questions, the first being what can we do? Are there steps we can take to help ourselves and other people acknowledge our microaggressions? When and if we do recognize our microaggressions, what happens next? What can we say to people who do not want to listen, and how do we do it in a way that will not make them increasingly defensive?

2 thoughts on ““Micro”aggression, Larger Problem”

  1. Something that I have been working on in response to microaggressions is my ability to call other people out for what they say. I often have trouble identifying them in the moment, so I have a difficult time speaking up for others. One of the things I have learned, however, is to stick with a gut feeling.
    For example, one of my professors this semester asked the students of color in the classroom what a White individual should say instead of saying “I’m sorry,” in response to a racist remark or action. I was completely taken aback. Using everything that I have learned in this class, I understood that this was not okay. But I didn’t speak up because I doubted my first feelings. After that encounter, I had time to think about the remark that my professor made and talk with my friends about it. After hearing their reactions, I understood that what happened was not okay.
    Since then, I have been actively attempting to speak up when I have that instinct that something is off – because, I figure, speaking up even when it isn’t as bad as I think it is, is better than not speaking up at all.

  2. When we learned about microaggressions, I definitely had an “oh, crap” moment because I did not realize even the littlest comments I made were racist and affecting individuals. The examples you give are definitely the ones I am most familiar with. Ironically, in my one Political Science course we have one black student. Every time my professor talks about Africa (in any context) he looks directly at her, whether he knows he is doing it or not. By him staring at her, it causes the rest of us to stare. Now, I can only imagine how awkward and on the spot she must feel. Therefore, she may not even have any African roots but we assume she does as well as we assume her to give us feedback about Africa simply because of her color.

    Microaggressions are minimally acknowledged by white people I think because they do not understand their harm, especially because no microaggressions are every committed towards white individuals. No comments that are made toward whites are specifically because of race, which really puts things into perspective for me. I think having the knowledge of these occurrences makes us responsible for addressing microaggressions when they surface. We may not always receive nice responses back, but it is important to draw attention to such comments that could directly hurt minorities.

    Since these class periods, I am much more knowledgeable about my comments and my friends who may say things that I know are not okay. However, I struggle with my black friend makes a joke about her race. I do not know how respond or how to react? She knows about this class and urge for change, but she does place me in an awkward position because I do not want to laugh, and I do not want others to think it is okay to participate in her jokes about blacks.

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