Several years ago when I started to hear the term "microaggression," I rolled my eyes thinking, "Really? We're offended at that level now? Do we have to be so critical and so sensitive that we have to find itty bitty slights in everyday language no one is even intending for harm?!? Snowflakes." Blegh. I am now incredibly sad about my ignorance from a privileged position. I didn't understand. I'd never felt it. I didn't have to.
But the more often I sit in my office with those in the margins, the more I am beginning to understand that micro doesn't refer to the size of the intent, but rather to the level of subtlety in implied discrimination. In other words… It's sneaky. It's discreet. It's manipulative. It's death by a thousand hidden cuts.
When I mention that I know some "really articulate black people", I am implying that I don't actually expect black people to be articulate—these ones really stand out. When I say something like, "I mean, I never owned any slaves." I'm implying that anyone who feels the systemic, historic effects of mass mistreatment and injustice is overreacting, that their injuries don't count, aren't legitimate, and can't possibly still have an effect on their people group today. I'm suggesting their injuries are made up, just because I can't feel them or see them. And I'm definitely suggesting that I'm not a part of the problem and that I'm not interested in being a part of the solution.
Except I am. Part of the problem AND part of the solution. I'm part of the problem because I've refused to listen. I'm part of the problem because I haven't fully examined my own biases and assumptions. I'm part of the problem because, aware or not, I am passing on the system of oppression by continuing to use it as it is. I'm part of the solution if I will start asking questions and start listening to the other side of the story.
Unsplash photo cred: Rui Silvestre