Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | May 1, 2014

Microaggressions in Daily Life: The Hidden Trap

Microaggressions in Daily Life: The Hidden Trap 

Michele C. Dávila, world languages and cultures

What are microaggressions? The term coined by Chester M. Pierce in 1970 originally referred to racial comments that seemed inconsequential, that either intentional or unintentionally were derogatory toward minority ethnic groups.  The term has expanded now to include all kinds of slights due to gender, religion, sexual and cultural differences.  But why “micro”?  Because they are non-physical-aggression remarks and, in many cases, tend to be commonplace verbal assumptions of our stereotypes about the appearance or behavior of different groups.

The interesting aspect is that any racial, gender, social or cultural group can fall into this trap.  That is why it is so important for all of us to be aware of these acts that offend people, even if it wasn’t our intention to do so.  Some examples of microaggressions are:

  • “What are you?”
  • “No, where are you really from?”
  • “You don’t speak Spanish/Chinese/Japanese/etc.?!”
  • “Wow! Your English is really good!”
  • “Are you sure you have the right room number? This is the *honors* section”
  • “You don’t look Puerto Rican/Mexican, etc.”
  • “You aren’t really black though, you act like a white girl”
  • “I don’t date bisexuals. They’re never faithful.”
  • “Stop crying and acting like a little girl!”
  • “How much money would you put on the Boston bombers being Muslim?”

All these remarks are based on family/nation/religion/social class stereotypes on what each ethnic group identity should be, and they demonstrate our ignorance of the multiple ethnic/gender/cultural intersections every person has.  Increasing globalization has rendered “typical” assumptions of ethnic groups obsolete.  The new generations have rendered “typical” families and sexual orientation also obsolete.  But we still deal with problems of sexual objectification, sexism in all its forms, second-class citizenship, cultural insensitivity, and worst of all, invisibility.  Sometimes, even those that defend themselves with “I’m not racist/homophobic” (denial of bias), or “I don’t think of you as Black” (colorblindness), are demonstrating some forms of microaggression.

We, as a community, have to be aware of the problems our student/faculty and staff of color confront with even well-intentioned people.  If you want to learn more about this go to the Diversity and Multicultural Office at the Ellison Campus Center room 202, or call 978-542-2681 and speak with Rebecca Comage, the Director, and Jamie Bergeron, the Assistant Director, about your concerns.  Also check these internet sites where you can read first-hand accounts of what people hear that offends them (some of the examples are the ones I quoted above):

The Microaggressions Project at http://www.microaggressions.com/;

21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis at http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/racial-microagressions-you-hear-on-a-daily-basis;

Unmasking ‘racial micro aggressions’ at http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/02/microaggression.aspx;

Microaggressions at http://www.fordham.edu/academics/office_of_research/research_centers__in/center_for_teaching_/the_art_of_teaching/microaggressions_89343.asp;

and the video “Microaggressions: Comments That Sting” at http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000002769668/microaggressions-comments-that-sting.html?smid=tw-share

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