“Micro” May Mean “Small,” But Microaggressions Have A Large Impact

Let’s talk microagressions.

What Is A Microaggression?

A recent article on NPR defined microagression as, “veiled, everyday instances of racism, homophobia, sexism (and more) that you see in the world. Sometimes it’s an insult, other times it’s an errant comment or gesture.” (This article is very informative, and I highly recommend that you give it a read.)

Basically, microaggressions are a more slighted way of conveying a bias towards a person or a group. This type of discrimination can be perpetrated in an intentional or unintentional way.

The prefix micro, does not mean that these types of aggressions do not have major impacts on the people they are used against, the term is more so meant to convey that they tend to be less overt than outright using racial slurs.

I feel the need to have a chat about them because I, like countless others, experience microaggressions on a near regular, everyday basis.

In fact, if I had a dollar for how many times some venomous person told me that they were “surprised by how smart and articulate I am,” I would be independently wealthy.

What Makes Microaggressions Particularly Shitty?

What makes microaggressions particularly shitty, is their covert nature. These aren’t the overtly racist assholes who call me a “wetback” and tell me to “go back to where I came from.” (This always makes me laugh, because I’m literally part of the dust that is beneath my feet. My family can be traced back to the beginning of record keeping to southern Colorado and New Mexico. Fun fact: Colorado and New Mexico were not always part of the colonized United States. History and Geography will blow racists minds every time.)

Examples of Everyday Microaggressions

No, microaggressions are more veiled, and include such things as: “So, does everyone in your family wear cowboy hats and cowboy boots?” “I bet your house is so clean, because you know…” “Please don’t serve burritos at your wedding.” “Your mom was a manager? Was it like a landscaping company or something?” “I can’t believe you’re so articulate! “Oh, well it’s probably because you’re from Mexico.” (I’m not.) “You speak Spanish, right?” “You can look at those, as long as you’re not going to steal them.” “You look so exotic.” “No, but like, what are you?” “Where are you from?” “Excuse me, can you take care of this trash?” (I definitely didn’t work there.) “Oh, I brought this person to you because I would have thought you spoke Spanish.” “How did you get your job?” “You’re not like the rest of them, though.” “I can’t help it, you all kind of look alike.” “You people.” “I had no idea you had a degree. How interesting!” “Everyone can succeed, if they work hard enough.” “I bet you’re ready for a siesta.” “I guess affirmative action worked in your favor.” “Do you make a lot of food from your people?” “But you speak so well.” “You’re so spicy!” “No, but where are you really from?”

These are just a small sampling of the microaggressions that I hear on a daily basis. This doesn’t even include the either incredible service I receive in a store (aka being followed around a store and repeatedly asked if I need any help, because I apparently just have that look about me that I am going to steal something) or, the terrible service I receive in a store (aka apparently, being brown means that I can’t afford anything). It also doesn’t include the microaggressions I encountered with my brother and mother, who are much much darker than me. Trust me when I tell you this, there is a spectrum of racism, and it is less and less the more “white” you look.

Microaggressions Are Cumulative

Microaggressions are like your college finals, they are cumulative. These little slights add up over time. Someone will hear things like this on a daily basis for the majority of their life. Think about that. I’m 33, and let’s pretend that I only heard one shitty, racist thing every day from the time I was 3 years old until now, that would be 10,950 shitty things I’ve been told about how I am “less than,” “don’t belong,” etc. This calculation doesn’t include days that I would hear more than one thing. (It also doesn’t account for leap years. I had my son do the math for me, and he was very disappointed that I didn’t do the appropriate leap year calculations. “I guess you can put that, but it’s not quite accurate.” The disgust he has for my apathy about being 100% accurate makes me so happy! I mean, this kid is going to have to do my taxes for me when I’m old, so I like to know he has such stringent standards.)

To be told that you do not belong and that you’re “other” over and over wears on even the most mentally strong person. In fact, microaggressions can cause damage such as “depression, fatigue, and anger to physical ailments such as chronic infections, thyroid problems, and high blood pressure.”

Why Do I Feel The Need to Point All of This out?

Well, because, recently, it became apparent to me that not everyone in my life realizes that I hear this type of bullshit on a daily basis, which just baffles me.

How can you not hear that? How can you not realize they just said they are surprised that I’m ‘articulate,’ because they assumed I wouldn’t be because of how I look? How? How? How?

Then it hit me, some people will not notice something that is not happening to them.

And this is where it becomes tricky.

It’s fine that you didn’t notice before, but you can notice now, because I’m telling you that it happens.

Where I become irate, is when someone, who may have never experienced a microaggression before, invalidates that it is happening to me.

“Are you sure?” “I think you’re just being sensitive.” “Are you having a bad day?” “It didn’t really sound like that to me.” “Oh, I didn’t notice.”

Nope. Just nope.

So, here is my snarky PSA that this shit is real, it happens daily, it’s exhausting and demeaning, and no, Karen, I don’t care if you “didn’t hear it,” because your lack of acknowledgement doesn’t make it any less legitimate or hurtful.

What Can You Do?

Speak up.

If you hear someone saying something that’s a microaggression, call them out. Let them know what it is and why it is hurtful. Sometimes, people will say things, and be completely oblivious that it can be hurtful, like asking someone “Where are you from?,” or giving someone a “compliment” like “You are so articulate!”

It is not the job of the person who is being victimized by the microaggression to educate the aggressor.

It is everyone else’s job.

You need to educate yourself and everyone around you.

Then, maybe, someday, I won’t be forced to explain my ethnic background to every person I meet, who inevitably asks me “What are you? Like, are you Hawaiian or something?” or “I just have to know. Where are you from?,” and maybe, instead, they’ll ask me crazy questions like, “What is something you’re passionate about?” or “What’s something you are looking forward to?” Just a thought.

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