In my last blog, I shared a story of a microaggression. In my original draft of that blog, I called an incident that happened to me a microaggression. The word was removed so I could better explain it in a second blog.
The term microaggression was coined in the 1970s to describe the subtle and not-so-subtle dismissal, judgment or discrimination of people of color and women. Psychologist and Columbia University Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership,” according to Wikipedia. An article in Psychology Today explains it as well.
We understand aggression. Aggression is defined as “hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.” An act of aggression (road rage, bullying, domestic violence) is something we can all identify.
What does a microaggression look like?
Asking a rape victim how she was dressed is a microaggression. (It implies she was asking to be raped.) Immediately telling the Latino at the front door of your church that he has the wrong address is a microaggression. (It concludes based solely on his appearance that he has no reason to be in “your” church.) Being surprised that the African American woman sitting next to you at a symposium has more degrees than you is a microaggression. (It reveals the limiting conclusion made about women of African descent.) Refusing to make the church building accessible because people are willing to “carry” the person in a wheelchair is a microaggression. (It further disables the person using the wheelchair.)
Microaggressions are more than politically incorrect; they feed off assumptions. If you go back and re-read my blog, I shared a story of a microaggression. Some of the comments made in response to that blog on Facebook were microaggressive in nature.
Microaggressions are aggressions that do not require relationship. The fact that the person perpetrating the microaggression may not intend harm does not remove the sting. Microaggressions can make the other person feel unloved and uncared for–I don’t think that is the message the people of God wish to put out there.
Microaggressions are like a wee pebble in your shoe. If you do not find it and remove it, you might go lame. That tiny thing interrupts your relationships; stops them dead in their tracks.
If you do not remove it, it can change the way you walk. Let’s identify microaggressons before they alter our strides. What microaggressions have you seen in yourself or in others?
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice for Women of the ELCA. If you would like to find out if there is someone from the TDTR network in your area who could facilitate discussions about race, contact [email protected].
Creative Commons photo, used with permission