Microaggression is defined as subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities (www.microaggresions.com).
This New York Times article on racial microaggression on college campuses came at the right time. I have been doing a lot of thinking about microaggressions on college campuses.
College should be a place that fosters learning, intellectual conversations, and openness to other cultures. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to think college is a place that does the exact opposite. This past year, I have heard so many questionable comments about race, gender, and sexual orientation, that I wonder if it is naivety or prejudicial thinking.
To my own face, a couple of things people have said to me:
“He listens to that hardcore rap nigger music.”
“You don’t sound like you are from New York… you sound white.”
These are just two statements of many that have been said to me. Each time I was shocked and only one of the instances I said something.
When the person told me I ‘sounded white,’ I later on, when it was an appropriate setting explained why a person of color may feel offended by that statement.
When the person spoke of ‘hardcore rap nigger music,’ I honestly was shocked, because the way he said it made me feel uncomfortable and I didn’t know how to respond. In the setting we were in, I didn’t want to come across as sensitive, combative, or argumentative. I ended up not saying anything, but someone else stepped in and said ‘not cool’ after which he apologized and after a few awkward seconds, walked away.
But as I witness more microaggressions on campus from people making comments like ‘those Chinese people,’ ‘Chinese mafia,’ or use words like ‘complainer’ or ‘aggressive’ to describe women in a manner, I know if it were a man in the same situation they would not have used those words, it makes me want to say something.
When it comes to microaggressions, I’m always hesitant to say something because I do not want to come off as overly sensitive or that person that no one can talk openly around. But, if as a collective we continue to let people make comments without educating them, we are also part of the problem.
I am now realizing there is nothing wrong with politely explaining to someone the err of their words and there is nothing wrong with exposing these issues that exist on a college campus.
People need to be made aware that they should not characterize a person with generalized statements, but look at them as an individual.
What are your experiences with microaggressions? How do you respond?
An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.
Photo Credit: I, Too, Am Harvard