Let’s be real, whether you want to admit it or not, racism, sexism, ageism, and all the other ‘isms’ that create marginalization within western society are still alive and well today. Sure, it may be less acceptable to be blatantly discriminatory against anyone different than ourselves within our society today, but that doesn’t necessarily mean discrimination has stopped existing altogether.
Which is where microaggressions come in. Microaggression, initially coined by Harvard University professor and psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce as a way of describing insults and dismissals that white people inflict on people of colour, has been broadened to include the casual degradation of a marginalized group.
The problem with microaggressions, or at least the public’s perception of microaggressions, is that they are so subtle that sometimes you don’t even know you’re committing them.
Take, for example, different hair types. Asking a black woman if you can touch her hair, while seeming innocuous enough, is the textbook definition of a microaggression. Yes, you’re not lighting tiki torches and joining white supremacy rallies by any means, but the very question is entirely othering and frankly pretty uncomfortable for the person being asked.
Same can be said for other marginalized groups. For instance, asking a lesbian couple which one is the “man” in the relationship is not only a question that literally does not have an answer — the whole point of being in a lesbian relationship is that there isn’t a man — but it normalizes the idea that all relationships should somehow fall under the great heteronormative umbrella that dominates our perceptions of love and romance.
Plus, frankly, it’s incredibly intrusive to ask what goes on in someone else’s bedroom no matter how different you may feel their experiences may be from your own. If you’re that genuinely curious, there is such a thing called Google.
The fact is, the power of microaggressions doesn’t lie in the act of committing them alone, but through their subtlety. By ignoring them, or simply not perceiving them, you are actively normalizing problematic behaviours that further marginalize and hurt marginalized peoples. There is an incredible amount of power in committing a harmful action without realizing that you’re doing it. There’s more power in feeling that you are justified to do so.
But, I mean, historically speaking there have been many instances where people felt there was nothing wrong with straight up slavery so I think it’s safe to say that checking our behaviour on the regular is not the worst possible thing we can do. Admitting you’re wrong sucks, but systemically hurting marginalized groups is hardly a strong enough justification to further your own ignorance.
If you need any justification that microaggressions have an impact, maybe look at the current president of the United States and get back to me.
So yes, microaggressions exist, and yes they do hurt people. But even if you don’t believe that microaggressions normalize systemic racism, sexism, ageism, heteronormativity, etc., I think we can all agree that if someone is made uncomfortable by something you say or do then maybe you should stop saying or doing the thing.
Be a nice person and check yourself once and awhile. You may end up making the world a little bit less of a cesspool in the process.
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