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“Tell the class what the minority perspective on this is.”
January 21, 2011 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Microaggressions. This blog seeks to provide a visual representation of the everyday of “microaggressions.” Each event, observation and experience posted is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt - acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult. Social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.
posted by prefpara (56 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The worst thing about microaggression is that it is very easy to do, and the easiest way not to do it is to only talk to other white men. We all say stupid shit sometimes, regardless of background (well, some of us more than others, and some less likely to be the brunt of it), and it sucks to realize that in retrospect your seemingly minor gaffe is an integral part of a severe oppression.
posted by idiopath at 2:31 PM on January 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


idiopath has a good point but a lot of these are truly appalling.
posted by maxwelton at 2:45 PM on January 21, 2011


yeah, I wouldn't call many of those "micro" at all
posted by idiopath at 2:49 PM on January 21, 2011


I wasn't trying to advocate for microaggressor sympathy or something, I just find "do I do that? how do I stop myself from doing that?" a more constructive line of questioning in general than "gee people who do that sure are assholes unlike us, huh?".
posted by idiopath at 2:54 PM on January 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


“They probably just had a crush on you.”

What my white father said when I told him two white students called me the n-word on the bus.


This one makes me very sad. I'm sure the father just had no fucking idea what to tell her, and desperately wanted to make her feel better and failed miserably.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:57 PM on January 21, 2011


This puts a name on some things I've been thinking a lot about lately. Grar.
posted by Tesseractive at 3:03 PM on January 21, 2011


"I've been discriminated against because I'm white." --Student in my breakout group on identity and race that my school was holding in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

My 15-yo son admitted in family therapy this Monday (which was also MLK Day, by coincidence) why he had never developed any friendships between 2nd and 4th grade, when he attended a school with a less than 1% non-Hispanic white student body. "Kids made fun of me. They called me white boy. No one would sit next to me at lunch."

That was the first time he'd ever told me, and that was all he wanted to say about the matter. Which is apparently for the best, because otherwise he might be engaging in "microaggression" by claiming to be a victim of racial discrimination.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 3:12 PM on January 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


Whineblog.
posted by Decani at 3:19 PM on January 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yup. These sorts of things happen to all of us. Cope, get therapy, retaliate, but this is *life*. This is the world we live in. There's no miraculous utopia someplace where people don't behave this way at least some of the time.
posted by PuppyCat at 3:23 PM on January 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Not quite what I was hoping. Somehow I expected closer to "microaggravations". I'd love a blog with (perhaps pictorial) representation of the little minor things that tend to go wrong, one by one, compounding and building on one another in impish synergy - to ultimately leave you a complete wreck by the end of the day.
posted by TomStampy at 3:32 PM on January 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


What strikes me is just how many ways one can behave aggressively towards someone else. I do think that everyone is probably on both sides of these exchanges at some point in their lives, and perhaps some people more than others. So it's not just something that happens to 'minorities', and also happens between minorities, and really... probably as long as there are two people on the planet, there will be microaggressions.

But I do like the site, because it seems a healthy way to cope - to share what happened, how it made you feel, process it, and then, move on.
posted by anitanita at 3:34 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had trouble parsing some of these:
Facebook’s new profile doesn’t allow you to leave the gender field blank - you are required to choose between male and female, he and she.

What's the alternative here and who is losing out? Transgendered people come to mind, but they too have a gender association. Does this mean that Mr/Mrs/Ms fields are also microaggressive?
My boyfriend and I are both queer femmes in an opposite-gender relationship.

I'm getting tripped up by "both queer femmes" and "opposite-gender relationship".
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:38 PM on January 21, 2011


These really run the gamut, don't they? Guy making obviously insensitive and idiotic comments about ogling Japanese women is not exactly the same as a 19 year old girl who is upset that people call her 'miss' in her phone job, is it?
posted by fixedgear at 3:45 PM on January 21, 2011


What's the alternative here and who is losing out? Transgendered people come to mind, but they too have a gender association. Does this mean that Mr/Mrs/Ms fields are also microaggressive?
Having been sucked into a hundreds-of-replies-long flame war in the issue queue for a piece of open source software that had a 'Gender' field, I can say that there are people who believe -- wholeheartedly -- that the answer is "Yes." I'm not judging, I"m not agreeing or disagreeing. I'm just saying, yes. Some individuals absolutely believe that providing a set list of gender designations is offensive.
posted by verb at 4:11 PM on January 21, 2011


Ogre Lawless: some people don't like having to choose male vs. female (the intersexed either by biology or inclination for example, or people who see themselves as genderqueer), and facebook is seen as more of a self representation / indication of how you want to be seen by others, than the random forms one fills out.

"both gender queer femmes" means they are both feminine and both want a more complex / playful / nuanced / fluid way of presenting themselves than just being a man or womanl, and "opposite gender relationship" is a quirky way of saying "straight" without what they presumably see as negative connotations for the term.

Perhaps this makes more sense if you consider the possibility that they want to not take gender all that seriously, but are always surrounded by people who take it very seriously and get angry when they send out unfamiliar gender signals.
posted by idiopath at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


The point isn't the complaining, it's the awareness of the things that YOU could easily be doing without understanding how much damage it may do to another.
posted by so_gracefully at 4:16 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the frustrating part about this is that it's rebranding many things that amount to "not getting it" as a kind of agressive attack. I understand that the cumulative impact of most people not understanding, misinterpreting, or dismissing things that you find really troubling can be very bad. I just take issue with calling it "microagression" -- we might as well call stupidity "microsabotage."
posted by verb at 4:44 PM on January 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


These really run the gamut, don't they? Guy making obviously insensitive and idiotic comments about ogling Japanese women is not exactly the same as a 19 year old girl who is upset that people call her 'miss' in her phone job, is it?

Well it depends. If you ask someone to call you "Ms." (a title with no relation to your married status) and they insist on calling you "Miss" or worse, "sweetheart", then yes, it is an act of microaggression, a deliberate discourtesy that insists on continuing a bigoted practice.

Overall, "Ms." is always more respectful and professional for a person you don't know/someone who hasn't asked you to call them something else.
posted by emjaybee at 4:45 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


verb: "I think the frustrating part about this is that it's rebranding many things that amount to "not getting it" as a kind of agressive attack"

Alternately, it could be a part lowering the stakes / intensity of letting someone know about an iffy behavior, about which they may be genuinely ignorant or a comment that may have been a legitimate mistake rather than an attempt to be hurtful, letting it be a smaller deal and thus maybe be easier to deal with.

When calling it microaggression, you aren't saying "hey, you are a racist" or whatever, you are saying "hey, here is this tiny thing, really not huge, you may not have even been aware and I understand that, but my world would be a better place if you tried not talking like that". It could help in reducing defensiveness that may otherwise impede positive changes at the very least.

The idea is kind of growing on me when I think of it that way - let small subtle racisms or sexisms be dealt with in small subtle ways, and go ahead and shout and get in someone's face about the big obnoxious intentionally hurtful stuff. It also seems pretty common sense too, but defensiveness can really impede common sense, so there is that.
posted by idiopath at 4:59 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


he might be engaging in "microaggression" by claiming to be a victim of racial discrimination

Huh? That sounds like it sucked for your son, and was a legitimate issue. It's also true that a lot of cryptoracist bullshit gets hidden behind complaints about "prejudice against whites". Can't both things be true? I guess I'm just confused what your point was.
posted by freebird at 5:02 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eh, I always think that racism is outright aggression. I think of the a-hole in the pickup truck that cuts in front of you and immediately slows down for their exit ramp - despite there being nobody behind you as microaggressive. I also think the lady that speeds up ever so slightly so she can beat you to the automatic door at Target to be microaggressive. There feels like there needs to e a certain level of pettiness or nyah-nyah from the aggressor for it to be microaggerssive.

For more good examples, go to a pta meeting.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:31 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eh, it could be worse, I guess.

They could be turning these petty grievances into AskMe questions.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:33 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Well, of course life is easy for you, you’re Malay. It’s not like you need to be smart to get a scholarship.”

Lol Malaysia. Well, when you're pretty much the only country in the world to implement affirmative action policies benefiting the majority race, you do expect some discontent from the minorities.

This is pretty much deliberate government manufactured racism to split the country along racial lines thus ensuring ensuring no other political party can ever unite the people against them.
posted by xdvesper at 5:45 PM on January 21, 2011


let small subtle racisms or sexisms be dealt with in small subtle ways, and go ahead and shout and get in someone's face about the big obnoxious intentionally hurtful stuff
I agree in principle, I just think that branding it as "Micro-agression" runs counter to that goal. It's like suggesting that the "Theft vs Infringement" debate can be settled by calling copyright violation "microtheft."
posted by verb at 6:13 PM on January 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well it depends. If you ask someone to call you "Ms." (a title with no relation to your married status) and they insist on calling you "Miss" or worse, "sweetheart", then yes, it is an act of microaggression, a deliberate discourtesy that insists on continuing a bigoted practice.

Overall, "Ms." is always more respectful and professional for a person you don't know/someone who hasn't asked you to call them something else.


Hmm, this is sort of tricky, because while it's appropriate to call a woman "Ms. Lastname," you don't really hear anyone say just "Ms." e.g. "Excuse me, Ms.?" - that just doesn't work. Growing up in the South, I was taught to always say "Sir" and "Ma'am" - this has bitten me in the ass on several occasions. First of all, there are some women out there who really hate "ma'am" (I think it makes them feel old?). Second, I have had one or two painfully awkward experiences where I mistook someone's gender based on his or her voice over the phone. And third, some people think "ma'am" and "sir" sound fake or insincere or condescending, rather than respectful - I even hear this from Southerners now! So I had to work to give up the practice in professional interactions. But that is sort of a digression from my original point, which is that there isn't really anything safe to use in interactions where you don't know someone's name.

Personally, I don't mind getting either "miss" or "ma'am." To my former receptionist's ear, this is a world away from "honey," "sweetie," and the like.
posted by naoko at 6:47 PM on January 21, 2011


Yup. These sorts of things happen to all of us. Cope, get therapy, retaliate, but this is *life*. This is the world we live in. There's no miraculous utopia someplace where people don't behave this way at least some of the time.
posted by PuppyCat
What's your point? Do you believe that the website is advocating something else? What is it that you're asserting?
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:50 PM on January 21, 2011


Overall, "Ms." is always more respectful and professional for a person you don't know/someone who hasn't asked you to call them something else.

I don't think you'd have to call many men "Ms." before you found out that wasn't the case.
posted by layceepee at 7:05 PM on January 21, 2011


What's the alternative here and who is losing out? Transgendered people come to mind, but they too have a gender association.

There was actually a big thread about this, not that long ago.
posted by Kalthare at 7:20 PM on January 21, 2011


I am willing to bet that every person on MeFi has done this. It's called interaction. While the comments on the website suck, I'll bet that every commenter and all the lurkers have done the same thing.

Some less so but some at least as much as you consider the bad stuff.

Here's one: While you were reading those you thought of at least one that was worse.

Discuss.
posted by Splunge at 7:47 PM on January 21, 2011


When calling it microaggression, you aren't saying "hey, you are a racist" or whatever, you are saying "hey, here is this tiny thing, really not huge, you may not have even been aware and I understand that, but my world would be a better place if you tried not talking like that". It could help in reducing defensiveness that may otherwise impede positive changes at the very least.

Only if the people you're reprimanding are not too bright, or if you have a pre-established relationship of trust and affection. Because you are in fact calling them racist --- what was "iffy" about their behavior was that you felt it was racist and offensive. (In most of the examples at the site. Some also deal with sexism, gender identity and other cultural issues.)

I feel betwixt and between about stuff like this --- while I agree that most of the stuff mentioned is aggravating and somewhat offensive, and while I can see that somebody needs to be the one calling people out for it, in practice I find most people toss off remarks like this out of ignorance, not malice, and personally I figure there's nothing nobody's going to ever do to beat all the ignorance out in the world, so everybody's got to learn to get along with a little of it in their life.

I also think that the kind of people who can get away with implicitly/explicitly calling other people racist without themselves become the objects of resentment are rare, rare, rare, and I don't think my diplomatic skills are up to the task. One may decide that fighting the good fight is worth this cost, of course. But to think you can escape the cost is probably delusional.
posted by Diablevert at 3:52 AM on January 22, 2011


Cope, get therapy, retaliate, but this is *life*. This is the world we live in. There's no miraculous utopia someplace where people don't behave this way at least some of the time.

There are however a lot of places where people don't behave this way very much of the time. SO many Mefites like to suggest the rest of the world is as bad as the U.S. when it comes to issues of race or gender. I'd like to suggest that simply isn't so.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:54 AM on January 22, 2011


Just because we can't eliminate all ignorance, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to reduce it. Or provide people a place to let off steam about it when they encounter it in a situation where starting a discussion is unlikely to work.
posted by harriet vane at 4:20 AM on January 22, 2011


I also think that the kind of people who can get away with implicitly/explicitly calling other people racist without themselves become the objects of resentment are rare, rare, rare, and I don't think my diplomatic skills are up to the task. One may decide that fighting the good fight is worth this cost, of course. But to think you can escape the cost is probably delusional.

Sure, but that also means that another cost is the perpetuation of racism at the deeply insinuated, society-wide level of privilege. Because my saying that I am racist and I believe most white people in the U.S. are cannot or will not be heard as a descriptor rather than a judgment--because people won't or can't hear it as a description of their social roles and privileges rather than their individual characters--it continues. This is the problem with the racism discourse we have in this society generally--it's too easy to preserve privilege by insisting on speaking, acting, and responding at the individual level: if someone is hurt by microaggressive racism, it can be dismissed as ignorance on the part of the speaker and over-sensitivity on the part of the one spoken to. But each of those people is implicated in something much larger that, at some level, has nothing to do with individuals, even as that larger system is made, in part, by individual actions.
posted by liketitanic at 6:37 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Or, as the comedian Margaret Cho put it, "When something hurts me I have to say something. If I don’t it will just burn me up. Living in America as a minority feels like dying of a thousand paper cuts, and I ain’t going out like that."

Dying of a thousand paper cuts might be better than some of the other ways to go. That doesn't mean it's an ambition we should have.
posted by liketitanic at 6:41 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


And I'll bite on this one, too, I guess:

What's the alternative here and who is losing out? Transgendered people come to mind, but they too have a gender association. Does this mean that Mr/Mrs/Ms fields are also microaggressive?

Yes. Transgendered folks don't necessarily want to be male or female. A lot of gender activists want to suggest that though sex may be binary, gender isn't, and people with variant gender expressions can't necessarily be shuttled into one box or the other.

And yes, Metafilter is one of the places that I try to practice being an ally to the best of my ability. I strive to speak up in this way all the time, but as a person, and as a person of privilege, it's hard. Thank you, all of you, for being part of a community where I can work on this.
posted by liketitanic at 6:44 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whineblog.

Many of those "microaggressions" do seem appalling. But--and I want to tread very lightly about this--I am sometimes also appalled that . . . how do I say this? Sometimes it seems that these days, anything that is said will offend someone somewhere. That's a hyperbolic statement, of course.

I have been reading Bill Zeller's suicide note as it has been published across the web, and some of the comments on some websites have been more kind than others. I have seen a few comments that completely denigrate his suffering; people who write flippantly that sexual abuse is something you should just get over, something you wouldn't think is a big deal if you had ever experienced real trauma. And the people who have written these things are, in my opinion, vile. It is shockingly vulgar to dismiss his pain.

But does it follow from this that every tiny offensive act is worth our attention? As much as I ache for Bill Zeller's tragedy, I am just as much offended that some people think that these "microaggressions" are worth our collective sympathy.

In these situations, I am often reminded of a story I once read.
posted by sunnichka at 9:50 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yup. These sorts of things happen to all of us. Cope, get therapy, retaliate, but this is *life*. This is the world we live in. There's no miraculous utopia someplace where people don't behave this way at least some of the time.
posted by PuppyCat

What's your point? Do you believe that the website is advocating something else? What is it that you're asserting?


Late to this but I feel compelled to comment as I favorited PuppyCat's comment. My two-bits:

No, I don't think the website is advocating something, but it is enabling, in some situations, a different kind of aggression, the so-called "passive" kind. Not in the context of the site itself, which simply is what it is, people relating situations big and small where someone else's alleged insensitivity, or worse, has caused them offense. No, my concern is the degree to which acute reporting of such slights and offenses nurtures a pernicious worldview where we all, on some level, are encouraged to define ourselves by the aggressions we suffer.

I don't think this is healthy. In fact, I think it's rather toxic and infectious. Because we all suffer aggression everyday in big and small ways, and yes it hurts, yes it diminishes us, but it only really does us serious damage when we allow it to define us, become, in effect Victims. And once we define ourselves as Victims, we define ourselves as powerless and thus, to my mind, hungry for power, which is always a nasty thing to hungry for, because in this hunger is aggression ... and so on, a vicious little circle.

I'm not saying that this is cumulative effect of the site. But I can see the site contributing to such a tendency. I've heard it said that one of the defining factors of mental health (as opposed to ill-health) is the ability of an individual to "own" their problems; not to take responsibility for having caused them, but to take responsibility for reconciling them.

I don't see how choosing to focus on the day-to-day aggressions (micro and macros) that we suffer helps us in this regard. Maybe if the site was called micro-grievances ...
posted by philip-random at 10:32 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some of these are worse than others. I think I sympathized most with the people who got shit like this at work -- especially from bosses or managers. Because then there's this very real possibility of reprisal if you were to call them out on it. But if it's a friend or girlfriend or boyfriend or acquaintance or whatever, you should totally be calling that shit out instead of posting about it on a blog somewhere. Sometimes people are just ignorant and need told what's up. They may not even know that they're being assholes.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:50 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't get behind the attitude that it's not my responsibility to educate my white ass so I don't say some ignorant shit and make another human being feel bad. And I can't get behind the attitude that it's that human's responsibility to reprogram his or her emotional response to being insulted/belittled/whatever.
posted by prefpara at 11:44 AM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Real aggression is enough of a problem to solve. WTF?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:44 AM on January 22, 2011


I have been reading Bill Zeller's suicide note as it has been published across the web, and some of the comments on some websites have been more kind than others. I have seen a few comments that completely denigrate his suffering; people who write flippantly that sexual abuse is something you should just get over, something you wouldn't think is a big deal if you had ever experienced real trauma. And the people who have written these things are, in my opinion, vile. It is shockingly vulgar to dismiss his pain.

I couldn't agree more. Bill Zeller clearly suffered horrible, serious and repeated abuse as a very young child. Bill Zeller had every reason to be sad, angry, depressed and traumatised.

The person behind this blog? No. "Oh dear, somebody said something dumb/inconsiderate/crass to me today. I need to write it down! Catharsis!"

No. What happened to you there is the sort of random, annoying crap almost all of us go through almost every damned day. It's called normal life. God, stop whining about it. Most of us don't, you know!
posted by Decani at 11:55 AM on January 22, 2011


I can't get behind the attitude that it's not my responsibility to educate my white ass so I don't say some ignorant shit and make another human being feel bad.

I agree. My personal memories of some of my teenage/early-20s homophobic antics make me blush with shame to this day, decades later. I had some serious learning to do.

But here's the thing. I was never consciously aggressive about it, just sloppy, insensitive, ignorant. I think this matters for something, matters a lot. Call something what it is, not what it might be. That's why I indicated that I'd have less issue with Microagressions if it was call Microgrievances. A stated grievance is just that, a statement of annoyance, perhaps injury. But to call it an aggression is to claim that it was deliberate, and this is itself aggressive.
posted by philip-random at 12:01 PM on January 22, 2011


Lemme guess--philip-random, Decani, and PuppyCat are white and straight.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:20 PM on January 22, 2011


I call that aggressive.
posted by philip-random at 2:21 PM on January 22, 2011


Lemme guess--philip-random, Decani, and PuppyCat are white and straight.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:20 PM on January 22


Lemme guess: you think that only white people can be racist.
posted by Decani at 2:43 PM on January 22, 2011


I'm so glad I created a space in which people can complain about how annoying it is for them to have to listen to stories about the oppression of others.
posted by prefpara at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2011


Lemme guess--philip-random, Decani, and PuppyCat are white and straight.
This is microagression.
posted by verb at 4:55 PM on January 22, 2011


Yet, no refutation.
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:58 PM on January 22, 2011


Mr. MoonPie, you're wrong in your assumptions. I'm neither white nor straight. Fact is, I'm skin-tone all over and definitely twisted and/or crooked in all manner of ways.

I look forward to your thoughtful refutation of my comments, my first in particular, rather than just your attempt to dismiss me wholesale based on your assumption of my skin color and my sexual preferences.
posted by philip-random at 6:09 PM on January 22, 2011


"Yet, no refutation."

The idea that calling out someone's race and orientation is a disqualifying accusation that must be refuted before their ideas can be responded to on merit is, as others have noted, precisely what the original site terms 'Microagression.'
posted by verb at 6:27 PM on January 22, 2011


I don't like Mr/Ms/Mrs boxes, either. It's intrusive. I understand why people with identity issues and the like find it even more face-rubbing.

I choose to check none of the boxes, instead of letting their assumption and intrusion shape my emotiona and day.

But I'm a white male, so my opinion about it is probably microaggressive.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:41 PM on January 22, 2011


Really, are some of you complaining because people who experience sexism, racism, and other bigotry made a website to blow off a little steam? That they named it in a way that expresses how they actually feel, instead of trying to make straight white males feel better about it?

I know the internet's motto is "Why wasn't I consulted?" but this is ridiculous. People are allowed to be annoyed by things that don't affect your life.

You've got no idea if these people spoke out about predjudice or stereotypes at the time they experienced it. Maybe it was the 10th time that day, the 70th time that week, and they just got fed up with trying to educate ignorant people who've got the resources to educate themselves but can't be arsed putting in the effort. Or who think that ignorance is some kind of natural force that can't be reckoned with.

Try to put yourself in their shoes, or look at this from a more charitable point of view instead of assuming that these people are whining or lazy. Or just move on to the next website, if you can't manage a little bit of perspective.
posted by harriet vane at 9:39 PM on January 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had a prof during my first year of university who had, let's say, issues with respecting the boundaries of other people's personal space. By campus gossip, he was a standard issue creepy old perv to women on occasion, but his personal space issues extended to the male students as well. It was really interesting to see the male students' reactions to this as opposed to the female students' reactions. The male students were *freaked out*. For the female students, well, they weren't happy, but it wasn't anything they hadn't encountered before.

In my understanding, this highlights a part of what oppression (as opposed to discrimination) is: just the adding up of hundreds and thousands of little things, so that it becomes the norm in your life and starts to affect your perceptions of yourself, how other people view you, your role in society, what you have a right to expect in terms of how other people treat you, etc.

That same year, talking about bullying with some fellow students, one made the claim that everyone gets bullied a bit or feels unpopular and out of place. Well, I'd believe that pretty much every teenager experiences some anxiety about their social status. But I'm guessing that on metafilter I don't have to explain that some people (I'm alluding to nerds here, of course) get bullied a heck of a lot more than others?

Same with the hundreds and thousands of little things: just like bullying in middle school and high school, people in certain groups tend to experience this quantity of micro-whatever-you-want-to-call-thems significantly more than others, due to their membership in said group or groups. Yeah, everyone has to put up with the occasional rude comment, but it's at a totally different level.

But the happy thing is, it's not a competition for Most Oppressed status! There are many different groups such that inclusion in that group can get you targeted for this aspect of oppression, and, people being human, there's all sorts of complex interactions between those groups where, you might be experiencing oppression on one axis, but dishing it out on another axis. Does that negate your own experience of oppression? No! Does that mean that you can't possibly be contributing to someone else's oppression? No! Heck, sometimes people even contribute to the oppression of themselves and other members of their own group (think Sarah Palin:women).

I guess the other important point is that human interactions are complicated, so what you intend and your motivations in an interaction are an almost entirely separate issue from what another person perceives and what they get out of the interaction. 'Nother anecdote: I got teased a bunch in 5th and 6th grades, came to feel like I had no friends in my small, close-minded, rural school by the end of sixth grade. Then we moved. (That's the handy thing about being a nerd; it doesn't necessarily stick with you for your whole life, like being of a particular ethnic background, sexual orientation, sex, gender, permanent disability, etc.) My mother still had friends in the area, so we were back there occasionally. One time, we ran into a former classmate of mine in the store, who seemed quite happy to see me and friendly and stuff. You could'a knocked me over with a feather.

What had gone on, of course, was that really there were only a small number of actual bullies, but no one else willing to stand up to them and publicly, vocally support anyone they were picking on, for fear of being the next target or losing their own social standing. And silence sounds an awful lot like agreement. Thus I developed the impression that no one liked me. Most of the kids weren't being mean or being bullies themselves, they had no ill intent toward me, and in many cases probably did in fact like me; yet their words and actions (or lack thereof) were still negative for me, given the broader context.

So yes, a lot of the people quoted in posts on the microaggressions blog might not have had negative intent, and might have been merely ignorant. That does not make it any better for the people on the receiving end of their little rudenesses. For a completely blown out of proportion analogy: maybe Baby Doc Duvalier really has always thought that he had the best interests of the Hatian people in mind, and just selflessly helping out his country really was his motivation for his recent return. I don't think they're going to care much about that one way or another during his trial for human rights abuses.

Unlike Baby Doc, the issue of whether you might be a Bad Person for unwittingly dishing out microaggression is fuzzy. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. But it definitely makes you a Good Person to educate yourself as much as possible about all sort of other people's points of views, to try to avoid that sort of ignorance-induced, unintentional contribution to their experience of oppression, and to not devalue or discredit other people's experience of a situation even though it's not how you might have intended or interpreted things. (Obviously, avoid being a bigoted twit on purpose too:P)

(and one of these days I'm going to figure out how to write short posts:( )
posted by eviemath at 12:13 AM on January 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


@philip-random...
Lets call a spade a spade - if you acted like a homophobic jackass in your 20s, you were an aggressive, racially biased (that is the extent of my generosity in seeing it your way) a-hole. A few years of perspective on it gave you some conscience, that's good - but what you did was seed and ok hate. You marginalized individuals or created an environment where individuals could be marginalized.

Lets go with some typical things that people do - you may or may not have done these. I do not mean to imply that you did, but lets give you some perspective:
Call someone a "fag" because they suck at a video game? Uncool, marginalizing, latently racist. At best micro-aggressive, reality full on aggressive. Still too popular a term with video-gamers. That's one of those little things that makes the full on racists see you as "on their side" and giving them passive permission to do some seriously bad shit. It is beyond a dick move.

Make aggrandizing homo-erotic motions in a public place against/with one of your (royal you - not you specifically) friends in a "boys will be boys" sort of moment? Yeah, once again - while it is is full on stupid, and probably done in jest, you probably unknowingly did it in front of someone gay, and/or probably did it in front of someone who was the victim of sexual violence. Effectively, that simple maneuver acts as an evidence for repression or a trigger to a horrible event.

Let me be clear - those are examples - not necessarily things you did. Likewise, they represent full on aggressive behavior which perpetuates racism, hate, marginalize people and otherwise cross the line of good. Good of you to acknowledge the behavior as bad, bad of you to think there was some age-appropriate rite of passage that made that behavior ok. There is no life lesson out of shit like that, just a moment where you hopefully say to yourself in retrospect - holy shit - I made a dick move. Hate speech is hate speech.

I'm no saint. I live with my own set of demons, but there is no part of living with my demons now which justifies the stupid shit I've said and done. There was no justification that makes the shit right. There are truly moments where I can say "I was a bad person that I never want to be again." And that is what this is going after - its these little things that we give an effective tip of the hat to that really do their damage. They create marginalization, entitlement and effectively seed a lack of empathy in society.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:54 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


But it definitely makes you a Good Person to educate yourself as much as possible about all sort of other people's points of views, to try to avoid that sort of ignorance-induced, unintentional contribution to their experience of oppression, and to not devalue or discredit other people's experience of a situation even though it's not how you might have intended or interpreted things.

I'm with you up to devalue or discredit. But -- this may be a risky example to use -- say I'm one of those kids from your home town, and I liked you fine inasmuch as I thought of you, but basically I didn't notice you much one way or the other. In your head I hate you and am a bully, or contribute to an atmosphere of bullying; in my head you're, effectively, a pleasant-enough face in the crowd. Now -- am I a bully? Because if I am a bully it is reasonable to demand contrition. If I am not it is not. In your head I am, in my head I'm not. Who wins? Is it always, or should it be always, the person who was hurt?

I am not sure it should be. The problem us that the truth exists between --- intent matters, and yet quite often we are unwilling or unable to recognize our own unconscious ill-intent, in the moment (who hasn't found themselves, in the middle of an argument, shouting something like, "I'm not mad, goddammit!").

This is why correction in these matters so often fails to result in improvement. Perfect understanding is an impossible goal.
posted by Diablevert at 1:53 AM on January 24, 2011


Now -- am I a bully?

Nope, but not a Good Person either, imo. Think of it this way: one can be a good parent, one can be a bad abusive parent. One can also just be a somewhat neglectful or not especially loving parent without being specifically abusive, yet neither being specifically good.

Now that I've kind of insulted you, Diablevert, can I be nitpicky with your comment that "the truth exists between" as well? If I include a good natured smiley face would it help? :P I agree that interpersonal relations are complex and fuzzy. In fact, I don't think there is one "truth" in the sort of situations like I described. That is, you can't look at the situation from the outside and give some pronouncement on whether it was a microaggression or not. One person has one experience. Another person has a different experience of the same situation. Both are true in the sense that both people did, in fact, have their own experiences of that situation. I think the whole problem here - where people get defensive when other people try to point out how they negatively experienced a situation that the person getting defensive didn't intend as negative - is in trying to say that there is only one true or valid interpretation of the situation, requiring that either both people's experiences have to more or less agree, or else one person is wrong. It's not a competition.
posted by eviemath at 4:13 PM on January 25, 2011


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