Microaggressions have a macro impact

Sophomore: 'Your world is not the only world'

By on March 2, 2016

Over the last few months as the topic of racial diversity has gained momentum on campus, it’s become almost impossible to avoid discussing the idea of a microaggression.

A microaggression can be a verbal, nonverbal or environmental slight that—purposely or not—hurts a person who is part of a marginalized group, according to Psychology Today.

“A microaggression is some kind of behavior, which unconsciously or consciously makes another person feel uncomfortable,” junior Paige-Ashley Campbell said.

According to Campbell, sometimes people might perceive such actions as slight insults against them due to their race or ethnicity.

The American Psychological Association (APA) states some racism is so subtle that it is possible that neither the victim nor the offender may fully comprehend what has happened. To further help the public understand racial microaggressions, the organization has broken them down into three subcategories with examples for each.

First, there is the microassault. The APA defines this type of microaggression as an intentional action or slur, such as purposely serving a white person before a person of color in a store or wearing swastikas.

Microinsults are defined as verbal or nonverbal communications that are rude and degrade a person’s racial heritage or identity in a discrete manner. An instance of a microinsult would be if an employee asks a coworker of color how he or she got the job, which implies that the coworker may have secured the job through an affirmative action policy or a quota process.

Campbell has experienced microinsults. According to Campbell, sometimes when she goes into certain stores, people pay more attention to her because she is black.

“They think that sometimes because of your skin color, you’re not there to buy, but there to steal,” Campbell said.

The last type of microaggression classified by the APA is microinvalidations, or language that subtly eliminates or cancels out the thoughts, emotions or reality of an individual of color. An example is if a white person asks an Asian American where he or she is really from. This statement implies that the Asian American is a foreigner in his or her own country.

Katherine Pollock, a sophomore who has grown up in a predominantly white community, has seen this type of microaggression escalate into what she calls a “macroaggression” in her QU 101 class.

In one class, Pollock said they were reading a black student’s essay on how the feelings that people had during times of slavery are still prevalent today. This essay was being discussed in a class full of white students.

According to Pollock, the students invalidated the black girl’s thoughts.

“The kids went nuts,” she said. “They were like, ‘she’s pulling the race card, that’s not even true, I have black friends who let me do whatever the hell I want,’ blah, blah, blah.”

Afterward, Pollock said she would never forget what one kid turned around and said:

“He said: ‘I think we need to have a purge of ignorant black people.’”

Pollock said the comment scared her, even though as a white woman she has not experienced the same prejudice. But, despite it all, she thinks most people are not outwardly racist and do not realize the subtle racism.

William Jellison, associate professor of psychology, said the reason people do not recognize microaggressions is because they have not had lived experiences of minority groups.

According to Jellison, for minority groups to function in society, they need to understand the dominant group’s point of view along with their own point of view.

“The dominant group is the one that is kind of setting the rules,” Jellison said. “It is easier for them to brush a hurtful comment off because they are supported in other areas.”

Jellison said microaggressions have more of a detrimental effect for minorities and may cause them to disengage from the workplace or academics.

Pollock thinks this is unfortunate, as well.

After hearing ignorant comments that some have made, whether they were intended to be funny or serious, Pollock has begun to lose faith in people. Due to such insensitivities, she said the people who experience microaggressions feel more distant from others. Still, she said there is a way to lessen problems.

“People need to be surrounded by different people and different backgrounds,” Pollock said. “They need to be taught that your world is not the only world and you need to lift away this lens that you have.”

Jellison agrees more awareness is necessary and that people should catch themselves making these aggressions and then attempt to correct them. He said many people who are minorities do not bring up the hurt microaggressions cause for the fear of being called too sensitive.

“It is difficult for a dominant group to want to understand because it is not their lived experience,” Jellison said. “But, eventually, that corrected behavior will become more automatic.”

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