Social Justice Corner: the cultural causes and implications of microaggressions

We have all heard them at some point. Those backhanded “compliments” intended to make you feel better about yourself but does the complete opposite. It happens on small daily occurrences. They jump into our daily lives so briefly, but leave a lasting stain on our thought processes.

You never know when you will run into a microaggression. You can be running to class and stop by McKinley’s for a coffee when your acquaintance who lives down the hall from you compliments you on how “exotic you look today”. Oh boy.

Microaggressions by definition are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group (Derald Wing Sue American Psychologist, May 2007).”

To give more context to the earlier example of being called “exotic”, I would like to expand that as a woman of color being called exotic is tied to a very long and hard history of sexualization and demonization. Of course, the acquaintance in McKinley’s is unaware of this, hence why it is called a microaggression, even though the impact is anything  but micro.

These aggregations are usually offensive without the offender knowing so. Another example would be if someone commented on how articulate you are for (insert group of people here), how pretty or handsome you are for  (insert group of people here) or how people are generally taken aback by the way you act for (insert group of people here).

The issue with microaggressions is that they stem from historical views that have been used to silence groups of people. They also stem from media influence which honestly, does not portray any group accurately that is not a white heterosexual, upper middle class, cisgender man.

These views can be subconscious to the unaware individual who makes the comment about whether your father lives with you or asks you if your family is legally in the country.

Although their intent was not to insult you, the impact is profound. They are marginalizing. Being interrogated about your identity constantly, especially in an area where you are considered the foundation of “diversity”, is marginalizing.

Microaggressions push the recipient away from the community because they are “other”. They are “different”. They are “the token gay friend, the token black friend, the token friend who is Latina, but I’m assuming she’s Mexican”.

Microaggressions are small compared to institutionalized oppressions, but they are still very strong due to the impact. They show how people truly think and feel about other groups of people. Usually when people are called out on their comments, their response is “I’m not racist.  You’re just being sensitive” or “But I didn’t mean it that way!”.

Whether or not you meant to call me exotic despite the history behind that term towards women of color, who have died because of that word, is not the point.

It is the impact it leaves on another person because it shows that although you and I are different and are friends, you still think these things about the group of people I reign from.