Micro-aggressions

One thing that makes modern internet campaigning so intense is the widely held belief in “micro-aggressions”. According to Wikipedia, this term was coined by a Harvard psychiatry professor, Chester M Pierce, way back in 1970, but it has really flourished in popular discourse over the last few years. My 2003 print edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for it. However, Oxford now defines Micro-aggressions as “indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group.” I’ve just found a download from a private Christian University in Pennsylvania, called Messiah University (so one would imagine it would be quite conservative in its attitudes). The document is called “Examples of Micro-aggressions in the Classroom”. It quotes a Dr Derald Wing Sue’s (PhD) definition of 

“Microaggressions: everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

It then goes on to list over 30 examples, including “using heteronormative metaphors or examples in class” and “failing to pronounce or continuing to mispronounce the names of students after they have corrected you” It’s enough to make any anxious teaching student weep! How can they possibly remember all these things?!

In fact, Messiah.edu’s list is perfectly reasonable. All the activities it highlights are best avoided.  A single occurrence would do no harm – we all have to put up with being slighted[1].However, a constant experience of slights would become degrading – not excruciatingly humiliating, just subtly undermining of somebody’s security and sense of self-worth.

Micro-aggressions are a subject for discussion, a critique of The System, and the types of behaviour it fosters: something to be wary of. They are problematic when they become personal accusations, levelled by one individual at another to win an argument, to dismiss and condemn somebody, and thus to dominate and crush them. 

If micro-aggressions can be unintentional, the use of the term is entirely at the discretion of the person who is feeling sensitive. If they are feeling happy with you, you’ll get away with it, if not, they’ll fuck you up. If they’re arguing with you, it becomes another weapon in their arsenal. You are at the mercy of their whim. Which is a definition of tyranny. 


[1] Although, understandably, minority or marginalised people would be more vulnerable to feeling excluded.

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