Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Microaggressions

Microaggressions are real. If you are a person of color, a woman, a follower of a non-Christian religion, a member of the LGBT community, an immigrant, a person with a disability, or a person with a high BMI you have suffered a microaggression.

I'm not being facetious. We are always hurting each other. We are always saying something stupid about groups of people we don't know that much about.

Microaggressions affect everyone differently. If you tell me that you knew I was gay when you saw me try to throw a football, I'll be pretty pissed off. A gay friend of mine wouldn't care. I saw a documentary about Berkeley a couple of years ago. A black student mentioned that people were often surprised to see him in advanced math classes, but he shrugged it off. A black woman was furious with the assumptions people had of her due to her race.

The problem with microaggressions lie in the accumulation and, yes, they did affect me at one time in my life. I'm 35. I'm too old to care now. I try not to judge whether microaggressions upset you or not or whether the accumulation of these microaggressions weighs on you or not.

Everyone is guilty of committing microaggressions, whether they recognize their guilt or not. I don't like the word "microaggression," as it suggests intent on the part of the perpetrator. We need a better word.

I don't believe you solve the problem of microaggressions with committees or virtue classes. Certain kinds of microaggressions come and go with changes in culture. Model proper behavior for one another. If you are a teacher, try to be respectful and avoid stereotyping your students. You'll still make plenty of mistakes. But if you make fewer assumptions, you'll make fewer mistakes. Your students will in turn learn to make fewer assumptions and they will make fewer mistakes.

There is a difference between active bullying and microaggressions. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell the difference.

There are times you want to scream at someone if they commit a microaggression against you. You can do that if you want. You may be fully justified. I once said something dickish to a friend about his race. He could have screamed at me. Considering what I said, he damn well had the right. But he just quietly pointed it out, shamed me a little. I learned. We're still friends. I recently said something dickish about someone's disability. A friend gently corrected me. I was ashamed. I'm still ashamed. I learned. A lot of people very close to me have said dickish things to me about my sexuality. I gently but firmly told them that the things they said were wrong. They were defensive, but they never said those things again. We're still friends.

Here are things you should fight for at the ballot box: the right of every woman to get an abortion, the closure of the gender wage gap, the eradication of gay conversion therapy for adolescents, the end of the prison industrial complex, peace, school lunches, better health care, universal college tuition, police accountability, a more progressive income tax, a higher minimum wage, more union power, global warming. Workplace discrimination sucks. Fight workplace discrimination, but focus on the unfair denial of promotions, unfair hiring practices, and the wage gap. Focus on material consequences and less so on psychological pain.

I sympathize with you. If you are a woman or a member of a minority group, this society will hurt you and hurt you. It will humiliate you and humiliate you and then, when you think it can't humiliate you anymore, it will find a way to humiliate you again. You have every right to feel hurt. But be careful about adjudicating microaggressions. You don't get to penalize people for being human.

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