In a very recent Time Magazine Article (April 14, 2014) Dr. John McWhorter shares his take on what have come to be termed ‘microaggression’. The article starts, “Think everyday, interpersonal racism is a thing of the past? In progressive politics, most of the action has moved on from the civil rights struggle to a focus on ‘structural’ racism. But, wait, not so fast- there’s a new word on the street that signals the old-style racism is still with us 24/7. That word is microaggression.”
What are microaggressions? According to McWhorter, they are described by academics as “quiet, often unintended slights- racist or sexist- that make a person feel underestimated on the basis of color or gender.” Interesting to white males like me, “the microaggressor is quite often a good person, the kind we assume is too enlightened to pop off with racist or sexist insults.” This is what makes working on these issues so distressing! Good people, really wanting to be aware, still hurting people they care about by unconscious behaviors. So microaggression, though usually unintended, still cause people to feel less than in ways that are often not acknowledged or understood- by neither the sender nor the receiver! This might be termed “Death by a thousand paper cuts.” Ouch!
I believe the genesis of such behavior is simple unconsciousness of how a thought, word or action might impact a person different from oneself. But even without malicious intention, microaggressions still hurt. The solution for those of us who want to stop fostering microaggressive nehaviors is to continue to work on our own awareness. Read about other cultures, reach out to these cultures in respectful ways, make a conscious effort to connect with people different than you are. It makes a difference, IMJ!
It’s also useful to note, as McWhorter goes on to state, that there is comfort that the term is microaggression! It acknowledges that our society has become more enlightened and aware- and that’s a good thing! We HAVE made progress.
It’s also important to be aware of the propensity to frame microaggresion in a manner that makes it “so that whites basically can’t say anything right, as if being white were itself a microaggression.” McWhorter, who is black, suggests, “Let’s call it microaggression only when people belittle us on the basis of stereotypes.” I agree. What I do suggest is us white males working consciously and assiduously to become aware of our language, our behaviors and our thoughts so that we begin to ‘catch’ our possible microaggressive behaviors….and own them in the moment. I commit to doing just that, knowing I will fail from time to time. I want the women and people of color in my life to continue to hold me accountable to my behaviors that land as racist or sexist- whether they are ‘micro’ or not!
What do you think?