Social Justice Usage
Source: https://www.brandeis.edu/diversity/resources/definitions.html. Wing Sue, D. (2010). “Microaggressions: more than just race.” Psychology Today. Pierce. C. (1970). Offensive mechanisms: The vehicle for micro-aggression. In F. Barbour, The Black 70s. Boston: Porter Sargent, p. 265-82.
“The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” (Wing). For example, “One must not look for the gross and obvious. The subtle, cumulative mini-assault is the substance of today’s racism.” (Pierce)
New Discourses Commentary
The concept of microaggressions was developed mostly by Derald Wing Sue and refers to small slights or negative messages people understood to have a marginalized identity are believed to experience on an everyday basis because of their identity. It is the cumulative effect of the buildup over time of these experiences that is indicative of dominance and oppression, and thus any particular microaggressive behavior or circumstance can be identified as a problematic or indicative of one (see also, inclusion and safe space).
The idea of microaggressions has some merit in that frequent, repetitive annoyances and slights can psychologically build up to be a problem or even intolerable. It also has roots in the belief in Theory that society is entirely underlain with invisible systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, heterocentrism, ableism and others and so sexism, racism, and other prejudices manifest in many small ways undetectable by dominant groups but felt as a perpetual undermining barrage by marginalized people (see also, position and standpoint epistemology).
Despite the stem “aggression,” people who commit microaggressions do not need to have any negative intentions but simply speak their socialization into systems of oppressive power imbalances. Wing Sue uses as an example of this, the time he and an African American colleague were asked to move to balance out an airplane which he identified as the result of the air hostess’ internalized racism.
There is no way to mistakenly identify a microaggression, as the victim’s perception is considered absolutely authoritative (see also, lived experience). Because of the reliance upon the perception of the recipient of alleged microaggressions, there is reason to be concerned that critical theories of identity can teach people to become more sensitive to and aware of slights that might even be being read into the situation, with no way to make a determination on the matter (see also, critical consciousness and woke). This problem has been noted by lawyer Greg Lukianoff and psychologist Jonathan Haidt in their book, The Coddling of the American Mind, as a kind of “reverse cognitive behavioral therapy” where people are taught to become more and more sensitive to (and less resilient against) slights and minor insults (see also, victimhood culture).
Ableism; Close reading; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical theory; Discursive aggression; Dominance; Heterocentrism; Identity; Impact versus intent; Imperialism; Inclusion; Internalized racism; Lived experience; Marginalization; Oppression; Patriarchy; Position; Problematic; Racism (systemic); Safe space; Sexism (systemic); Socialization; Standpoint epistemology; Systemic power; Theory; Victim; Victimhood culture; Violence; White supremacy; Woke/Wokeness
Revision date: 2/5/20