Microaggressions have been widely discussed across campus during the past several weeks and months.
Students have organized protests demanding that the University implement mandatory diversity and cultural sensitivity training for administrators, faculty, staff and students.
The president, provost and Faculty Assembly have responded with resolutions regarding mandatory diversity training and curriculum changes that support these long overdue changes.
And while there has been plenty of dialogue around what can be done in response to microaggressions displayed in classrooms, meetings and events across campus, there still seems to be some confusion as to what microaggressions actually are and how some in the community may be unknowingly offending students and colleagues via these behaviors.
Microaggressions can be subtle comments directed at a marginalized group of people that, although may not be intended to cause damage, still convey either a derogatory or negative message pertaining to an individual’s background or sense of identity.
Many microaggressions play on the stereotypes of marginalized people, such as assuming someone who is Jewish is good with money, or asking a black student if they play on the basketball team.
They are not limited to verbal comments.
They can be displayed through actions such as clutching your purse when a person of color walks by, or mistaking a person of color for a service worker based out of pure assumption.
Microaggressions tend to be more difficult to address than blatant racism, because they are subtle and those on the receiving end of them tend to question the perpetrator’s intention, and their own reaction or response.
Microaggressions often are not taken seriously, as compared with more blatant racism. Both the word “microaggressions” and the behaviors are often dismissed as a construct of “liberal snowflakes” who are too sensitive.
Nonetheless, microaggressions only add to the power dynamic between marginalized people and their oppressors.
The dismissal, invalidation and subtle insults that microaggressions provide only emphasize this gap in power.
Microaggressions do not only apply to race either, they can be applied to gender and sexual orientation as well. Implying that someone is “not that gay,” or assuming that a woman is only a receptionist when she very likely could be the boss are only some examples.
Regardless of which example one looks at, the same dehumanizing experience remains. Words have power, just as much as actions do.
Because something may seem subtle, or unintentional, does not mean it is not actually serious.
We have to do better.
We have to be mindful of the things we say and do, and whether they may actually harm another person.
Microaggressions can be avoided if we all just take the time to learn how to communicate respectfully.