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microaggression

Credit: Reckless Tortuga: Racism in the Elevator

Microaggressions are those small everyday acts and subtle indignities through which the privileged, often without knowing it, make the marginalized feel, well, marginalized. This post looks at those by whites against people of colour in America, though women, gays, poor people and others experience them too.

Examples:

  • “Where are you really from?” – where New Jersey does not count as the right answer because they do not see you as really American (perpetual foreigner stereotype).
  • “I don’t see you as black.” – as if being black is some terrible thing they have to overlook (colour-blindness).
  • “I understand racism – whites painted swastikas on my house.” – as if American anti-Semitism is pretty much like anti-black racism.
  • “It’s not racist, you’re just being oversensitive.” – discounting your thoughts and feelings as if whites are better judges of racism.
  • Assuming you are good at sports – or mathematics – because of your race.
  • “You’re not like the other blacks” – as if the other blacks are so stereotypical
  • Making you feel like you are representing your whole race.
  • “You are so articulate/speak such good English!” – as if only whites have a good command of English
  • “She’s pretty for a black girl” – as if white girls are prettier than black girls
  • Being hypervisible to shopowners, the police, etc.
  • Telling a racist joke
  • Showing a Confederate flag
And on and on.

The YouTube videos about racism by Reckless Tortuga (pictured above) and Chescaleigh’s video about the stuff white girls say to black girls are full of excellent examples of microaggressions, from purse clutching to hair touching.

In most cases whites do not mean to be racist and, in fact, think they are not being racist at all. But so many are sunk in a racist mindset and blind to it that it comes out in hundreds of little ways like this.

If you try to point it out to them they often get upset, no matter how gently and kindly you tell them.  They say that you are being oversensitive, that you have a chip on your shoulder,  that you see race in everything, that you are making a big deal out of nothing, etc.

It is because of this kind of stuff that many whites feel like they are walking on eggshells when it comes to blacks. It is like no matter what they say or do it will be seen as racist!

The trouble is not that blacks see racism in everything but that most whites see racism in nothing – except like the Klan and the n-word (and not always even then).

In most cases any one microaggression is not a big deal and people of colour let it go – they have to pick their battles. But it is the constant rain of microaggressions day after day and month after month and year after year that wears away at one’s spirit. It can even affect your physical health. And the most dangerous microaggressions by far are those you do not see as microaggressions.

See also:

223 Responses

  1. on Mon Jan 16th 2012 at 03:53:03 Jack in the Box

    True. Sometimes I prefer the blatant, in your face racial slurs over the many random microaggressions. Many people don’t even realize what they’re doing, like you said.

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  2. One micro-aggression is calling a black person by another name. I lodged a complaint against a man I have worked with for several year. That was almost a year and a half ago and I have yet to hear anything. An investigation was done, the man in question admitted to it. The investigator recommended an outside investigation as they deduced it as systemic in nature. Well there is an old saying; ‘give them rope and they will hang themselves. These micro-aggressions and systemic racism go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.

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  3. Brother Abagond,

    As men, even according to this posting, we perform “microaggressions” against women. For this response, I will confess to conscious microaggressions, and I will presume the same to be true for you (that if you are ever microaggressive to a woman you are so consciously), so why do you pass the Occidental and claim:

    In most cases whites do not mean to be racist and, in fact, think they are not being racist at all. But so many are sunk in a racist mindset and blind to it that it comes out in hundreds of little ways like this.

    In my rare instances of sexism, for instance, I know full well that I am being sexist. Do you mean that these Occidentals genuinely don’t understand that they are being racist or do you mean that these Occidentals don’t think that they are being taken as racist?

    Because, in the responses for your thread on Chescaleigh, some have confessed to outrageous racist acts under the pretext of camaraderie, but these acts were so blatantly racist (like evoking slavery or segregation) that it would be absurd to think the Occidental unconscious of the “racism,” per se.

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  4. Dear Abagond’s African American readers,

    I know it is little comfort, but I am sincerely so very sorry that you have to experience these microaggressions, as well as the widespread macro-aggression. I see that it has to be so frustrating and painful and sickening to constantly experience this.

    Abagond, as I’m sure you know, your blog is so extremely valuable. I fervently hope it helps insulate your African American readers from the ill effects this aggression may have on them. Thank you for your excellent work and for the energy that you put into it.

    Please inform me of any and all indignities that, through ignorance I may cause you in my correspondence on this blog, and continue to tell your white readers all the indignities you experience no matter how slight. It is the only way they can begin to diminish.

    Sincerely, Tricia

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  5. You’re just knocking these posts out of the park, Abagond. Excellent work!

    A “relative” of micro-aggressions are micro-insults.

    For example, showing up for an initial job interview and being informed that the position you were just told over the phone was open and available an hour ago is now suddenly filled.

    Or being told that there’s no seating available at a restaurant when there are plenty of empty seats in plain view.

    There are countless examples of these types of insults that wears black people down, depleting valuable ergs of energy that many of us need to maintain/survive/sustain ourselves and families.

    You could in fact refer to it as another (wary and wearisome thing ..) “black tax,” a tax that white people do not pay.

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  6. This might seem weird to some and kinda sad to others but I was in NYC this weekend. Now I usually experience racism when I go out and I mean to the point that I do not even like going out. Sometimes I will just stay in the house because I dont feel like it. I must say however, that I did not experience any of what I normally experience. I went to breakfast at a really nice diner in Manhattan both days in NYC and I noticed that non of the white women grabbed their purses because they saw me sit next to them. People spoke to me and it was actually nice.

    However, when I sat next to another black woman on the train returning to my city. I got major attitude from her and I dont know why. I an an attractive black female and so was she.

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  7. Right on the money, Abagond.

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  8. I have to disagree with one of the micro-aggressions you listed Abagond. This one is not, in my opinion a micro-aggression every time or by every person.

    “Do you work here?” – because you are the same race as the workers even though you are not dressed like them.

    I have been asked the exact same question at just about every store I have been in through the years. I have had people of every size and color ask it even though what I am wearing does not match up with what workers are wearing. Are they all showing micro-aggression towards me, or are they just seeing something in the way I am acting that leads them to believe I work there?

    Maybe there is such a thing as being oversensitive sometimes as well. Can anyone honestly tell me they have never made a mistake, misunderstood someone, misheard someone? I know I can’t say I never screw up and I honestly believe that is a basic to being human, we all screw up and misjudge the situation at times.

    I do not doubt for even a second that the problems of micro-aggression exist. I know they do from my own personal experience and I have hurt and been hurt by them. That being said, I have to agree with many other posters here and say “Great post Abagond!” I have been enjoying the thought provoking material and discussion(s).

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  9. Good and funny! And very true. Just makes me feel like cussin. No! I did not say cursing. I said plain old fashioned cussin. lol. The one that used to really get me was, crossing the street when they saw me coming. The next time that happens, I am going to cross to, and see how that shakes ’em up.

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  10. My ‘favorite’, is the one where you have shopped at a store for 3, 5 or 10 years ,spent ‘good money’, ‘have ‘friendly’ chatter with store workers/owners on a regular basis, and you are still, followed around the store. Or you are seated by restroom/kitchen in a relatively empty/empty restaurant.

    Another one of my