I admit it...I have a problem with microaggression. Not with people being microaggressive to me. Not with me being microaggressive to others. But with the entire concept of microaggression. It seems that in the last few years we’ve taken what used to be called “having a conversation” and turning it into a minefield where the most innocently asked question can be seen as yet another case of a microaggression.
The program website for a conference I’m planning on going to lists a session on microaggression in one of its tracks, and in the description it says, “Microaggression has become a phenomena…” I want to scream, “Microaggression has not become a phenomena. The concept of microaggression has become a phenomena...and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon!” But as I learned at a conference I was just at this past April, to do that would make me guilty of a microaggression.
One of the things I learned at the April conference was one thing you should never do is to say that the person or people who claim that something is a microaggression is being overly sensitive, because to say that is yet another microaggression. One of the basic concepts is that no one can tell you what you are or aren’t offended by.
Well…I can buy that. I can buy the fact that I can’t tell you what you are or aren’t offended by. I mean, if you’re offended by something, then you’re obviously offended by it. I can’t tell you that what’s part of your reality isn’t a part of your reality. But what they’re really saying is that I shouldn’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t be offended by; and to suggest that you may be a little sensitive about a subject or a question is doing just that. Not only that, but to suggest that you’re overly sensitive about a subject or question is doing that in spades.
There’s just one problem with the idea that you should never tell someone what they should or shouldn’t be offended by; and that’s that there are times when people are offended by things that they shouldn’t be…and that even members of the microaggression crowd would agree that they shouldn’t be. Take for example interracial relationships; there are a fair number of people out there who are still offended by them. Do we have to say that they have every right to be offended, or do we get to call them troglodytes (with apologies to the real troglodytes out there)?
The tricky thing about microaggressions is that the offending comment doesn’t even have to be made with malice aforethought. It could’ve been an innocently-made comment that came out wrong. It could even be what the speaker innocently thought was a compliment, but that annoyed the hearer for the 40,000th time. It’s something the particular hearer is sensitive to, but once again, to call them overly-sensitive is another microaggression.
One of those tricky situations is asking where someone is “from.” Now, I know some people who get bent out of shape over simply the form, and not the content, of the question. Their particular microaggression is people who ask where you’re from (Bethesda, MD) when they really want to know what your ancestry is (Dutch). They wouldn’t mind the ancestry question if it were asked correctly. And yet, my particular microaggression is people who are pedantic about things like that when they know darned well what you mean.
This is one of those things that used to be considered part of normal conversation, but as much as I’d like to talk a little bit more about that, it’ll have to wait; because I want to get to the part about the nuts.
And that will have to wait too…until next week.