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  1. #1
    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Default Microaggressions

    This is a concept that I encountered in a multi-cultural counseling course in which we studied racism on a deep level. It also applies to sexism and all other forms of societal power imbalances. Reasonable people readily reject the overt forms of racism and sexism in which bodily harm and violation occurs at the hands of individuals we readily reject morally. Another dimension to these social issues are the countless incidences of microaggressions. Taken individually these are insignificant and easily dismissed, but the issue is that for the oppressed demographic they occur countless times on a daily basis, so these are like the river that erodes the landscape into the grand canyon. Because these individually lack the catastrophic nature of overt oppression, they are more easily accepted and practiced by ourselves and others we respect. When an individual from an oppressed demographic speaks out against any one microaggression, they are seen as being overly sensitive and fixating on minutia. Microaggression have a cumulative effect that makes it possible for more overt forms of aggression to take place. How should these incidences be approached when encountered in ourselves and others?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microaggression
    http://www.microaggressions.com
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/...-everyday-life
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  2. #2
    insert random title here Randomnity's Avatar
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    I don't have an answer, but it's an interesting and complicated problem. It's a hard problem because those who are not the targets tend to not see these things happening (both because they're subtle and because they're often not done when there's an audience), and it's hard to believe things without personal experience or concrete evidence. So as a white person (in a fairly racially tolerant area), I'm not aware of the racial microaggressions that no doubt occur. Most men are not aware of microaggressions that many women experience.

    It's hard to accept another person's experiences without any independent evidence, and it's tempting to assume it's oversensitivity so we can pretend the world isn't sexist, racist, etc - and sometimes it might be! But I think it's important not to dismiss these experiences automatically, particularly when the same ones are reported over and over by many people, just because we haven't seen it ourselves. Different people are often treated very differently, particularly in private.
    -end of thread-

  3. #3
    Starcrossed Seafarer Aquarelle's Avatar
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    It's a really interesting topic, and really difficult. No one wants to think of themselves as racist, but the sad reality is that racism is built into the system, and permeates (US) culture. So while the best solution- maybe the only solution- would be for us to point out incidents of microaggression to each other when we see them... it's sticky because accusing someone-- whether it be a stranger, friend, family member-- of racism is a really big deal. I almost want to say that it'd be better if being racist wasn't seen as such a taboo... I mean, of course we want racism to be taboo, but I think we all need to realize that most of us probably engage in some sort of racist behavior, even if it's very subtle, just by nature of acting out our White culture.

    (Of course I'm talking about US society, from the perspective of a white person. :P)

    EDIT: Just checked out microaggressions.com and wow, what a cool site!
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    royal member Rasofy's Avatar
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    Personally, I think people accusing others of racism and/or misogynism for reasons classified as micro reasons is a considerably bigger concern.
    -----------------

    A man builds. A parasite asks 'Where is my share?'
    A man creates. A parasite says, 'What will the neighbors think?'
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  5. #5
    insert random title here Randomnity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rasofy View Post
    Personally, I think people accusing others of racism and/or misogynism for reasons classified as micro reasons is a considerably bigger concern.
    If you actually read the articles about microaggression before blindly reacting to the word, you might avoid illustrating the point of the articles so perfectly. It is pretty amusing to watch, though.
    -end of thread-

  6. #6
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    "Microagressions" seems like just a fancy term for expressions of the subconscious biases all of us have. Our behavior toward everyone is colored by all our past experiences, and everything we have learned and absorbed. Not all of this has to do with stereotypes. We might be uncomfortable around conservatively-dressed, middle-aged white ladies and respond defensively to their polite inquiries because they remind us of our aunts who have been very nosy and judgmental toward us growing up. The remedy is the same however: to view each person as the individual they are, and not an embodiment of some stereotype, or a carbon copy of Aunt Shirley.

    At the same time, some people are determined to see bias behind every bush. If they don't get the job, it is because they are black rather than less qualified. If they get a poor grade, it is because the professor doesn't like women students, not because their paper was poorly written. The fact that discrimination like this has happened and continues to happen, does not mean that it always happens, or has happened in a specific case. It seems people in the examples you linked look at the world through the filter of bias, trying to see how every remark, every encounter can be viewed as an example of that bias. This is part conspiracy theory and part victim mentality, and about as rational and productive as either.

    Because these remarks and actions are rooted in our subconscious biases, they are like a bad habit. We have internalized them and they are second nature, and as such can be very hard to break. Accusing someone who commits one of bias will therefore produce cognitive dissonance if the conscious perspective of the accused is to value everyone as an individual. Especially since not all incidents labelled as microagressions really do indicate bias, it is better to respond with a neutral question rather than an accusation or criticism (which itself is aggressive). This will reveal whether there was a valid reason for the action, and reduce misunderstandings. If it turns out there was bias, education is a better response than scolding. Most people don't need to be convinced that discrimination is wrong; they just need to be shown how their action or statement really was motivated by race, gender, or some other irrelevant consideration. If it was not, then the "victim" is trying to reveal something that isn't there, which is unlikely to result in a productive encounter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    If you actually read the articles about microaggression before blindly reacting to the word, you might avoid illustrating the point of the articles so perfectly. It is pretty amusing to watch, though.
    I read 2 of the 3 articles, and have seen this type of behavior both in myself and others, and still share Rasofy's concern, though perhaps not quite in the way he intended. The responses reported generally seem unproductive and aggressive in themselves, at best falling in the category of "two wrongs don't make a right".
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

  7. #7
    royal member Rasofy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    If you actually read the articles about microaggression before blindly reacting to the word, you might avoid illustrating the point of the articles so perfectly. It is pretty amusing to watch, though.
    I read them. You happen to be less smart than you think you are (and that's not because you're a woman).

    You're illustrating my point as well, so we have a double irony here.
    -----------------

    A man builds. A parasite asks 'Where is my share?'
    A man creates. A parasite says, 'What will the neighbors think?'
    A man invents. A parasite says, 'Watch out, or you might tread on the toes of God... '


    -----------------

  8. #8
    insert random title here Randomnity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coriolis View Post
    The fact that discrimination like this has happened and continues to happen, does not mean that it always happens, or has happened in a specific case.
    ...
    Because these remarks and actions are rooted in our subconscious biases, they are like a bad habit. We have internalized them and they are second nature, and as such can be very hard to break. Accusing someone who commits one of bias will therefore produce cognitive dissonance if the conscious perspective of the accused is to value everyone as an individual. Especially since not all incidents labelled as microagressions really do indicate bias, it is better to respond with a neutral question rather than an accusation or criticism (which itself is aggressive).
    ...
    Most people don't need to be convinced that discrimination is wrong; they just need to be shown how their action or statement really was motivated by race, gender, or some other irrelevant consideration.
    Some excellent points. Response is definitely the hardest thing to figure out. I'm not sure there is an ideal response at all - certainly accusing someone of being a sexist/racist is not usually a good idea for situations like these. And yes, it is likely that some people are oversensitive or have a victim complex, and see these microaggressions where none exist. And I agree that most of these actions are done without any conscious racist/sexist intent, which is why they can be uncomfortable to confront.

    The problem (described in the articles and illustrated predictably here) arises when people have an emotional reaction to the possibility that they might do some things with sexist and/or racist connotations (knowingly or most likely, unknowingly), and respond with a knee-jerk rejection of the possibility that sexist/racist actions exist on a level less severe than preventing women from voting and hanging black people.

    While it can be uncomfortable to think more closely about whether your actions might be hurting other people, it also sucks to be the people hurt by those actions every day. I don't think we should be dismissing other people's experiences without examining the possibility that they are indeed valid, even if it's an unpleasant few minutes of thought for us. That doesn't mean assuming they are 100% valid and objective (no individual experience is) - it just means not assuming they are 100% invalid.
    -end of thread-

  9. #9
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    The problem (described in the articles and illustrated predictably here) arises when people have an emotional reaction to the possibility that they might do some things with sexist and/or racist connotations (knowingly or most likely, unknowingly), and respond with a knee-jerk rejection of the possibility that sexist/racist actions exist on a level less severe than preventing women from voting and hanging black people.

    While it can be uncomfortable to think more closely about whether your actions might be hurting other people, it also sucks to be the people hurt by those actions every day. I don't think we should be dismissing other people's experiences without examining the possibility that they are indeed valid, even if it's an unpleasant few minutes of thought for us. That doesn't mean assuming they are 100% valid and objective (no individual experience is) - it just means not assuming they are 100% invalid.
    It sucks just as much to be accused of sexism or racism when not only did you not mean it, but you would have acted the same way toward a person of your own sex or race, for reasons completely separate from these considerations. The emotional response of the person who feels offended usually starts off any discussion of the incident on the wrong foot.

    You cannot tell someone their actions reflect bias, you can only show them. In fact, you have to lead them to figure it out themselves, and sometimes this realization only happens over time. This means those on the receiving end have to be consistent in responding in ways that highlight the bias in a nonconfrontational way. For instance, the black who feels waiters always hand the wine list to his white dinner companion could simply take it from his friend in sight of the waiter, saying "I'll take that. What would you like tonight?", just as I as a woman sometimes take the check from a male dining companion. This confronts the behavior without confronting the person, and leaves the waiter thinking, "perhaps I should have given the wine list/check to him/her". Next time perhaps he will lay it in the middle of the table, or ask who wants it.
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  10. #10
    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coriolis View Post
    ...Because these remarks and actions are rooted in our subconscious biases, they are like a bad habit. We have internalized them and they are second nature, and as such can be very hard to break. Accusing someone who commits one of bias will therefore produce cognitive dissonance if the conscious perspective of the accused is to value everyone as an individual. Especially since not all incidents labelled as microagressions really do indicate bias, it is better to respond with a neutral question rather than an accusation or criticism (which itself is aggressive). This will reveal whether there was a valid reason for the action, and reduce misunderstandings. If it turns out there was bias, education is a better response than scolding. Most people don't need to be convinced that discrimination is wrong; they just need to be shown how their action or statement really was motivated by race, gender, or some other irrelevant consideration. If it was not, then the "victim" is trying to reveal something that isn't there, which is unlikely to result in a productive encounter.
    This is an important statement and empowers people on both sides of the problem, and the vast majority of people will find themselves on both sides of some type of micro-aggression.

    When I took the course that addressed racism it was an eye-opener because I belong to the dominant race in my society. What was so helpful is that we all acknowledged how racism affected each one of us and not "if" it had. Everyone living in a racist society is affected by racism. The same is true of sexism. Our first assignment was to write a paper on how we individually benefitted from privilege. It was amazingly uncomfortable to examine my life and admit how there were times I had it easier because of race and achieved some things not entirely on personal merit. I also had the chance to examine some of the unconscious negative assumptions I had developed that were racist. This was done in a primarily non-accusatory manner and so it was more productive.

    I have called out certain statements here online as misogynistic which is questionably helpful depending on how it is interpreted. I can appreciate guys who respond defensively at being called misogynistic because that indicates that they don't want to have that as part of their identity. What is important to explain is that saying/doing something misogynistic doesn't indicate that the person is horrible or intends to be harmful towards women. I have had to work to overcome misogynistic assumptions myself. From my perspective I think there are wonderfully kind and admirable people who commit these micro-aggressions.

    I especially appreciate your comments, Coriolis, because it describes a way to communicate so that each one of us can make progress as human beings.
    Step into my metaphysical room of mirrors.
    Fear of reality creates myopic morality
    So I guess it means there is trouble until the robins come
    (from Blue Velvet)

    I want to be just like my mother, even if she is bat-shit crazy.

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