The Truth about Microaggressions
If you watched the recent Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings, you might’ve been unaware that you were actually watching “three days of microaggressions.” Senator John Kennedy called Jackson “articulate.” This is apparently a “microinsult” (i.e. a subcategory of microaggression), but really, it depends on your color. Jackson’s the right color (or the wrong one, depending on how you look at it), so anything that’s said or done to, near, or about her is perceived as a “microaggression.” (Interestingly, “unfounded accusations” apparently constitute microaggression–if not overt racism–but only if you’re Jackson–not if you’re, say, Brett Kavanaugh.) This is the world of racism; that is to say–this is the world of being hyper-focused on race. Gone are the days of “content of character over color of skin.” Now it’s content of character is the color of your skin. It’s a world fueled and manipulated by the political left, and it’s tearing us apart.
In a 2007 article by Columbia University Teacher’s College psychologist Derald Wing Sue, PhD and a group of his colleagues popularized the term microaggression. Microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
According to the authors, “Almost all interracial encounters are prone to microaggressions”–that is, at least since 1970, when the term was first coined by Harvard psychiatrist Chester Pierce. Pierce defined microaggressions as “subtle, stunning, often automatic, and non-verbal exchanges which are ‘put-downs.’” Others have defined them as “subtle insults (verbal, nonverbal, and/or visual) directed toward people of color, often automatically or unconsciously.” According to Sue, “Microaggressions are often unconsciously delivered in the form of subtle snubs or dismissive looks, gestures, and tones, and they’re “detrimental to persons of color because they impair performance in a multitude of settings by sapping the psychic and spiritual energy of recipients and by creating inequities.”
This concept sounds downright disempowering. The notion that people of color are wandering about in the world, subject to the whims of white folks and wholly unprotected from having their psychic and spiritual energy sapped and their performance impaired, with a mere look, tone, or gesture. If this is the case, it’s really no wonder we have to speak about microaggressions at length–after all, people of color literally will not stop getting “sapped” until white people shape up and stop committing microaggressions. I can’t imagine what benefit could possibly come from teaching minority groups to think this way.
Anything Can Be a Microaggression
Returning to the definition(s) of microaggression, however, it’s important to note that–by definition–almost anything could be a microaggression (and I have a feeling that’s the point); it’s all up to the interpretation of the alleged perceiver, the person of color in any given interaction. There are many problems with this; I’ll start with one of the more obvious: there are over 7.5 billion people on the planet, over 7,000 languages, over 3,500 cultures, and many different ways to interpret everything. Is an individual’s perception more right simply because he has the right skin color? The world of microaggressions–and indeed, the larger worlds of “intersectionality” and the woke left–would say a resounding “yes.” If your perceived current or historical oppression trumps the other person’s current or historical oppression, your interpretation cannot be questioned. Questioning is racist (just ask Jackson’s supporters).
And truly, anything can constitute microaggressions, which, as Sue explains, are “not limited to human encounters alone but may also be environmental in nature, as when a person of color is exposed to an office setting that unintentionally assails his or her racial identity. For example, one’s racial identity is minimized or made insignificant through the sheer exclusion of decorations or literature that represents various racial groups.
Forms of Microaggressions
Three forms of microaggressions are identified: microassault, microinsult, and microinvalidation.” Calling a person of color “articulate” is a microinsult. Here’s another example, according to Sue: “When a [w]hite employer tells a prospective candidate of color ‘I believe the most qualified person should get the job, regardless of race’ or when an employee of color is asked ‘How did you get your job? [because] the underlying message from the perspective of the recipient may be twofold: (a) People of color are not qualified, and (b) as a minority group member, you must have obtained the position through some affirmative action or quota program and not because of ability.” And remember: microinsults can also occur nonverbally, such as “when a [w]hite supervisor seems distracted during a conversation with a [b]lack employee by avoiding eye contact or turning away.”
The problem–and it’s a wonder we adults have to explain this to each other–is that we’re all flawed. We all come with baggage, blind spots, and, yes, even biases. We’re prone to misunderstanding, misperception, and mistakes. We have bad days (or weeks or months), where we don’t present our best selves–and are perhaps equally less likely to recognize that in others. If you’re a believer, we’re all sinners, all just as in need–and, ultimately, undeserving–of saving. Ideally, that should humble us, should stop us–or at least slow us down–from hanging our hats on rigid and myopic points of view.
In a TikTok that recently went viral, a young woman of color rants about how white people blithely walk down the busy, narrow sidewalks of New York, hand-in-hand, refusing to move out of her way, because “racism.” But as one commenter points out (and surely many have shared the sentiment) her complaint isn’t indicative of oppression–just minor inconvenience (conveniently categorized as “microaggression”). And it’s an inconvenience we all share. But we’ve become largely blind to this in favor of encouraging members of minority groups to believe these inconveniences happen only to them, and only because of racism.
Microaggressions Don’t Encourage Grace
I work with three young adults on the Autism spectrum. They’re all wonderful and unique in their own right. I’ve noticed they also have a challenging time picking up on social cues and spatial awareness (common symptoms among those on the spectrum). When we’re out, I find myself having to gently remind them to say “excuse me” or to move out of people’s way. If the woman in the video–or indeed, anyone who worships at the altar of critical race theory–were to encounter these young adults out in the world, they might jump to the conclusion their perceived “rudeness” is due to racism. Microaggressions encourage us to start with the least forgiving assumption and work backwards from there.
Only Some Feelings Matter
In short, microaggressions encourage us to focus on our feelings while reading other people’s minds. We can’t read each other’s minds. Let’s stop pretending like we can. The Sue paper gives a perfect example of mind-reading (although he seems to encourage it): “When a Latino couple is given poor service at a restaurant and shares their experience with [w]hite friends, only to be told ‘Don’t be so oversensitive’ or ‘Don’t be so petty,’ the racial experience of the couple is being nullified and its importance is being diminished.” Was the restaurant exceptionally busy? Was it understaffed? Were the staff simply bad at their respective jobs? Did a white couple walk in after the Latino couple, only to be served first? We don’t know, because it doesn’t matter. Only “the racial experience” (often dubbed by the left today as “lived experience”) matters. Only feelings matter. But we all have feelings. So perhaps it’s more appropriate to say only some feelings matter.
So why would the world encourage minorities–all minorities–to develop and lean into this same self-consciousness? To see aggression, judgment, and hostility where truthfully there may be none. Why not encourage them to question their initial perceptions, their reflexes, and their own possible biases? So they too can be robbed of opportunities, relationships, and joy? That’s what we do when we propagate concepts like microaggressions, when we encourage members of minority groups to be and see negative–all in the name of “progress.” Pushing back against negativity bias–which ultimately affords one a freer, more positive day-to-day life–shouldn’t be reserved for white people. After all, should I alone get the undeniable gift of realizing that the problem is almost always inside my mind–rather than in external circumstances–just because I’m white?
Regressive Not Progressive
Microaggressions serve to water down the concept of racism. They subvert the power of racism by turning it into a woke joke (i.e. “an office setting that unintentionally assails [a person of color’s] racial identity”), as opposed to a terrifying, momentous thing, with real-world harm and impact beyond misperceptions and hurt feelings.
If everything is racism, nothing is. And in that sense, the concept of microaggressions–as discussed in boardrooms, corporate trainings, and TikTok videos–is regressive, rather than progressive. It stifles diversity, rather than strengthens. People of color are painted as victims, at constant risk of “sapping.” White people are expected to save people of color, by being “better”–by being, indeed, perfect. If looks, tones, and gestures have such an impact on people of color, then white people must be always on their best behavior. No “bad days” allowed. No grace extended. No benefit of the doubt.
The left claims to celebrate and encourage diversity, but true diversity includes diversity not just of skin color, but also of opinion, thought, culture, religion, etc. A more diverse space means people are going to offend each other much more often within that space. There will be misunderstandings and misperceptions which can only be solved by communicating, by first giving the benefit of the doubt. We can’t claim to love diversity, then invent concepts like microaggressions to make everyone paranoid of, triggered by, and resistant to the actual diversity. If the left is looking for offense, they’ll find it, and if they’re looking for racism to be the reason for that offense, they’ll find that too. No one can tell the left otherwise. It doesn’t mean they’re right and it doesn’t mean it’s “progress.”