There is an ugly truth hiding behind the way many young college age people talk to and behave around each other. Microaggressions are an insidious force that creeps into our everyday thoughts, speech and actions. They may seem harmless, but they represent a real threat to the moral integrity of our society.
What exactly is a microaggression? Derald Wing Sue, a psychology professor of Columbia University said it’s “the everyday slights and indignities, put-downs and insults that people of color, women and LGBT populations and those that are marginalized experience in their day-to-day interactions with people.”
Examples of microaggressions could include: inappropriately inquiring about a person’s racial background, avoiding a person of color because of falsely perceived danger, catcalling, asking a transgendered person about their body or sexual practices.
“One of the most common microaggressions I experienced throughout my life is the jumping to conclusions about me being studious or not interested in having fun or partying,” said alumna Jessica Cho.
The people that perpetrate microaggressions are usually well-intentioned citizens who do not intend on being discriminative. I admit occasionally and unknowingly using microaggressions.
Senior Justin Bell, who spoke on his experience with microaggression relating to racial prejudice, said, “When I’ve walked around Rohnert Park I’ve experienced people lock their car doors as I got near them.”
The danger and unconscious forces behind microaggressions cannot be understated.
In a country with a long history of prejudice. The notion that people even think, consciously or not, to address other people with microaggressions, demonstrates that we are raised in a society that ingrains in us from birth the idea that there are different “kinds” of people.
Microaggressions are not the overt prejudice experienced in civil rights era by any means, but they may be difficult to root out of our consciousness. This is because their seemingly harmless nature allows people to let them slip in to daily conversation without getting confronted about it.
I personally have seen microaggressions play out time and time again, quite often in peers my own age.
When people express racial preferences in dating it may not be a microagression in itself. But, statements like these can be a slippery slope toward being more overexpressionate with prejudices. I question the need for statements like this in conversation.
Perhaps the most common expression of gender related microaggression is when men attribute negative experiences with women to them being on there period or some sort of inherent female irrationality.
Also when someone asks where another person is from only to follow up the conversation with praise of how well-spoken their English is or how exotic their accent is. Classic microaggression.
Freshman Michaela Luque said, “A lot of the time I’ll be in a group of people, say for a project, and someone will mention that they are Mexican and I will say that I am as well, to which I’ve been told that I’m not a ‘real’ Mexican because of my lighter skin complexion.”
The attempt to define what a “real” American, Asian, Buddhist, Catholic, Indian, Latino or any other label is a dangerous road to go down. It has led to systematic discrimination in our laws and worse.
Growing up in Oakland, I knew an elderly Japanese couple, the Obie’s, who lived next door and were more like grandparents. We would go over almost every day to play and get candy.
But one day they sat me and my siblings down and told us about how they were taken away to concentration camps in the desert during WWII because of their race. They told us how when the war was over and they returned home almost all of their personal possessions were gone.
When they visited their neighbors after coming back from the Manzanar concentration camp and saw pieces of their furniture in the houses of white people that lived around them.
The neighbors welcomed them back warmly but said nothing about the stolen furniture.
The story of their plight horrified my siblings and me but they told it to us so that we would never let history repeat itself.
When I see microaggressions in my peers I sometimes think back to the Obie’s and feel guilty.
These small acts show that prejudice, even if it’s on a small scale, exists in all of us today and it terrifies me to think that if the right series of events happened today another group of people could be facing what the Obie’s did over 60 years ago.
It’s these perceived differences constructed by a prejudiced society that seek to divide us.
We as the younger generation ought to put more of a concerted effort to shake free the baggage of stereotypes from generations before us, even if it comes in the seemingly harmless form of a microaggression.
We can do better.