This term, coined by psychiatrist Chester Pierce in the 1970s, has been used increasingly by progressives to refer to commonplace words and behaviors that convey a hostility or prejudice toward someone in a marginalized group. Originally used in the context of race, the term now also encompasses speech and actions related to gender, ability, and sexual orientation, among others (see references below for examples).
To those on the right, microaggressions represent a prime example of politically correct culture demanding rigid conformity to one way of thinking about life - even on the level of common, every-day interactions. In their view, the entire microaggression narrative reflects the growing intolerance exemplified in the trigger warnings now common on college campuses. Most progressives, in contrast, see microaggressions as evidence of how deeply the language and structures of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other privilege are embedded in contemporary society. Recognizing and avoiding such microaggressions, for them, is a welcome step toward sensitivity and cultural competence.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
- Are those who report microaggressions making mountains out of molehills? Or are they drawing important attention to damaging cultural practices?
- Have you ever experienced a microaggression directed towards yourself? How did others respond?
- Have you ever seen someone claim to have experienced a microaggression? Did you agree with them?
- Which world would you rather live in: one in which every microaggression was immediately labeled,or one in which no microaggression was ever named? Why? In whichever world you chose, who would define what constituted a microaggression?
- Can members of dominant groups experience microaggressions?
- Can accusations of microaggressions ever be unfounded? Who decides? What are the implications?
- How small is micro? When does a microaggression become an aggression?
- When do accusations of microaggression become aggressive acts in themselves?