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As a society, we must be conscious of our words and actions. With education comes the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and the rationale to understand why words are harmful
An innocent comment about your Asian friend always succeeding in math courses, a quick joke to your African-American peer about her voice not sounding “black”, a stunned look on your face when your Mexican-American friend reveals she does not speak Spanish, and when your new acquaintance reveals her sexual orientation, but you are confused because she is way too pretty to be gay and voice this concern are all “normal” occurrences, right? It is normal for someone to see a person of color and ask “What are you?” as if they are anything but human.
These interactions are called microaggressions. Webster’s dictionary defines a microaggression as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”
Although these quick conversations happen every day, the target has an immediate internal decision: whether to address the naive aggressor or give out yet another pass. The choice the victim makes has an impact on their mental state, and over time this reoccurring, inescapable pattern takes a toll on them.
Some may argue that the perpetrator means no harm, but ignorance cannot be used as an excuse. Microaggressions are still a form of decimation, even if the instigator is not wearing a white gown, carrying a torch and spewing vulgar terms. Someone is behaving in a certain manner based solely off preconceptions or invalid stereotypes, and this leads to damaging situations for the person being targeted.
This hidden view of the aggressor adds an extra layer of complexity when trying to educate the bewildered, and is a reason why most victims choose silence. Speaking up comes with the fear of being looked at as oversensitive or finicky. Rather than run into another uncomfortable situation while explaining how the situation is racist, sexist or discriminatory, the victim saves themselves from added stress and does not speak up. They must pretend they think as little of it as the average person, or their opinion is considered a sign they are over-thinking it.
As time passes, this feeling of being misunderstood and forcibly hushed opens the door for depression, self-hate and in the worst case scenarios, self-harm. It is a situation that cannot be won. The victim speaks and is put down even more, or the victim chooses not to say anything, and the undesirable behavior continues. They internalize the words because they cannot avoid or deflect them.
How can this torture be stopped? Understand that your viewpoints can be flawed. Work to find the facts, not just information that backs up what you already believe to be true. Most importantly, seek education that can help you better understand how microaggressions affects society.