by Sally Senior
Dear Sally Senior,
What exactly is a microaggression and how can I avoid saying them?
Dear Sue Sophomore,
Dictionary.com defines a microaggression as “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.” Microaggressions are seemingly small, harmless comments (hence the “micro”). But just because they’re small doesn’t mean they don’t hurt or are not offensive. Many people often say that people who respond to these comments can’t take a joke or are too soft, but consider this: If you had a small rash, wouldn’t you get a little concerned about it? And just because a person doesn’t respond to a microaggression, it doesn’t mean the person hearing it is alright with it.
Once when I told someone I went to HB their immediate response was one that questioned how I was able to get in. I was truly at a loss for words because even though I had never even heard of HB until eighth grade and never even dreamed of going here, I had to wonder if that person would have asked that question if they knew I had lived in other city or if my skin color was different. HB is an amazingly inclusive place, so it is sometimes difficult to remember that there are people outside of our school that are not as welcoming. I am happy with the fact that we as a school harbor so many conversations about diversity. However, that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Trying to avoid saying microaggressions is hard because, as we have learned, these comments are subtle and usually unintentional. However, once you know what microaggressions are, it is much easier to recognize when you are saying one. The best way to avoid hurt feelings is to think about how you would feel if you were in the other person’s shoes. And yes, it is exhausting to analyze every comment you make every single minute of the day, but you don’t have to. Once you start recognizing the little comments – “She’s pretty for a _______”, “Wow, do you really think you should be wearing that?”, “You speak such good English!” – it gets easier with practice. And if you hear someone use a microaggression against you, don’t be afraid to tell them how you feel. Otherwise, they might never recognize what they are saying is offensive. We will never be able to progress if we don’t have these conversations, so don’t feel bad or think you are being too sensitive. And if you use a microagression and someone calls you out on it, take the lesson, think about it and move on. It doesn’t mean the other person hates you. You’re allowed to make mistakes. Just make sure that when you say something that hurts someone, you listen to them.