So Emily, what’s a microaggression? And why would I want to avoid it?
Microaggressions, in short, are the pesky, hurtful little ways we say things that can make others (often those not of the dominant group) feel undermined, devalued, or generally less ok about ourselves. These are the subtle little ways that add up to destroy the wonderful diversity we have, and sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
So, this seems confusing. Can you give me an example?
A person of Asian decent is asked where they are from. They clearly answer, “Detroit,” and a person replies, “No, where are you really from?” The subtext here is that the person can’t really be from Detroit, either because the asker 1. can’t reconcile being Asian and from Detroit, or 2. is ignorant enough to believe that if one is Asian, then they cannot speak unaccented English.
Some of you might be saying, “What’s so wrong with asking where someone is from and being interested in them? Where someone is from can be a relevant thing!”
Assuming where someone is from is germaine, it’s about the *way* you ask things. Re-asking a question with them emphasis on really means you didn’t ‘buy’ the first answer, as if it were a lie. Perhaps its better to say something like, “Detroit. That’s nice. What was it like growing up there?” And allow the person to elaborate whether or not they moved there. Or, you know, have enough conversational skills to keep talking and get to know the person well enough that their story unfolds itself.
Microaggressions divide us, and worse-yet, they stick everyone at one point or another in a box that’s far too small for the complexity that is a human being. Get to know each other. Talk. Share experiences that unite and complement the ways we view the world. Educate others, particularly your friends, family, and students. And for all that is Holy in the world, think about the way you say things before you do!!
For more examples, see here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/racial-microagressions-you-hear-on-a-daily-basis (Trigger-warning: Many of these things go beyond what I’d call just straight-up microaggressions…)