Imagine if instead of using “micro”, they had gone with another synonym when coming up with “micro-aggression”: Measly-aggression. Lilliputian-aggression. Pygmy-aggression. Any of those would clearly expose the self-detonating nature contained in the concept. Those synonyms also don’t lend the air of scientific terror that “micro-aggression” enjoys. “Micro” evokes similar terms like “micro-organism” which is a potentially lethal creature because of its diminuitive stature. Micro-aggressions are on par with serving E-coli burgers at a Jack-In-The-Box drive through.
Psychologist Derald Wing Sue describes micro-aggressions as, “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” You’ll notice that intent is not part of the equation and that is by design as it renders the perpetrator incapable of mounting a defense. When dealing with E-coli, Mens rea is no excuse for diarrhea. As long as the words or behavior appear on a list cultured in a petri dish at some university sociology department, you’re guilty.
Self-righteous and zealous social movements take kernels of truth and surround them with shit so thick it’s impossible to pluck them out. Assuming a Mexican woman at the hotel is a maid, telling someone they are a credit to their race or asking a black person if you can touch their hair certainly could be deemed offensive. However, they would be offensive only if there is no context which would change the dynamics. If the Mexican lady is wearing an orange apron and emptying a trash can in the lobby, you could be forgiven for believing she isn’t an astronaut. “How dare you assume I work here! Micro-aggression!” she shouts. The problem with MA aren’t that assholes are nonexistent, but rather that the entire concept guarantees you’ll be an asshole in return.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes, “You have power over your own mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” If there were an AA for MA addicts, the opening prayer would go, “God grant me the serenity to not mistake an offhand comment for HIV.” For any recovering MA addicts out there, I`d like to offer another way of looking at the world: Micro-respect. MR shifts a person’s perspective from finger wagging to chin stroking. The respect comes from waiting for a person to express themselves thoroughly before you jump down their throats like streptococcus.
MR uses the earlier definition of MA with a little tweaking. MR, according to me, are, “Brief, everyday exchanges that send humanizing messages to certain individuals regardless of their group membership.” I can’t go a week without a Japanese person asking me, “Where are you from?” I suppose I could try to get all 120 million Japanese to never, ever ask me that question again. めんどくさい。Rather than pissing blood and assuming that the question is the product of a grave historical injustice, how about I just answer the question and see what happens? In fact, it was the first question the hot young number that became my wife asked me.
Human interactions are messy and festering with opportunities to assign malice to even the most benign questions, comments or behaviors. Sure, MR may allow some comments that are truly bigoted to slip by unchallenged. But, unlike with MR, MA will slap blame on many people that don’t have it coming. There aren’t many cultures that devolved into murderous killing sprees because ten year old boys played “Smear the Queer”. History is replete, however, with many cultures that destroyed themselves by playing “Spear the Unbeliever”.
Examples of microaggressions: www.sph.umn.edu/site/docs/hewg/microaggressions.pdf