Microaggressions: Prominent Forms of Discrimination that Must be Addressed

Cassandra Bristol and Zachary Grover, Opinions Editor and Editor-in-Chief

Your words have meanings…”

— Junior Jabze Solomon

“It was just a joke.” “You’re too easily offended.” “It’s not that big of a deal.” Many of us are all too familiar with these phrases. But when used in response to being called out for saying something truly offensive, these comebacks cause a feeling of invalidation. While it is truthful that discrimination is caused by large, systemic, societal problems, it is undeniable that small, day-to-day, intrapersonal acts of ignorance also contribute. Acts like these, big or small, intentional or not, are causing great harm to the social environment of schools and society at large.

Microaggressions are defined as “the everyday, subtle, intentional – and oftentimes unintentional – interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups” according to Professor of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Kevin Nadal. Nadal continued, “The difference between microaggressions and overt discrimination or macroaggressions, is that people who commit microaggressions might not even be aware of them… Therefore, it is important to understand that a lot of times people who engage in microaggressions will not believe that what they said was racist or sexist or homophobic. And so calling them racist or sexist or homophobic would make them very defensive and make them unable to even recognize what their impact was” (npr.org).

However, just because microaggressions are subtle and may not have been intentional doesn’t mean they are any less harmful than overt discrimination. School Secretary Tasha Forbes echoed this, stating, “I think microaggressions are more harmful because people are expressing subtle or unintention discrimination. As a Black woman living in America, I know that overt discrimination exists, but having someone tell me, ‘you speak very well’ is racist. Even if the person saying it means no harm, I believe the statement is racist.” Obviously, pointing out that someone speaks well is a microaggression because it implies this wasn’t expected.

Not only are microaggressions prevalent all throughout our world, and unfortunately, UC High, so are microaggressions. A couple of weeks ago, one of us witnessed two students throw an orange at another student and make offensive remarks about said student to another group of people, all for laughs. When confronted, the students tried to justify their behavior, saying that they only do this “with friends.” They were not the victim’s friends. Behavior like this is unacceptable, pure and simple, even if the affected party tries to brush it off or the behavior goes unpunished. Nobody should have their learning environment negatively affected by offensive behavior, whether intentional or not. “Your words have meanings… [they] may not have an effect on you, but they do on others,” said Junior Jabze Solomon.

Arguably the most common rebuttal to being accused of microaggression use is comedy. Whether you’re walking down the hallway and you hear a slur in the context of a joke, or you’re watching an edgy YouTube video which targets marginalized groups for the sake of comedic relief, humor seems to be an easy cop-out to make people think that the comments they make are not harmful. But this still can impact almost every aspect of people’s everyday lives. According to The Conversation, sexist commentary used in the workplace was found to decrease the amount of interest women had in taking on leadership roles and discussing politics. Additionally, the simple act of hearing homophobic slurs was found to implant a more negative view of LGBTQ peers, even among those not using the slurs personally. It may seem like a racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced view starts and ends when a joke is told. But in reality, even if you are not an outwardly bigoted person, creating an environment where casual discrimination is acceptable can have seriously dangerous effects (theconversation.com).

There should be serious commitment from all of us to work towards weeding microaggressions out of our conversations and actions and to hold others accountable. Think before you speak. Could what you are about to say be offensive to others? And be kind. What one person may see as a funny joke could be extremely demeaning to another person.