We Need to Stop Calling Microaggressions ‘Micro’ and Address Their ‘Macro’ Impact

The word ‘microaggression’ has only been blasted into the social stratosphere of the world as of the recent 2010s,  although somewhat mainstreamed from race theory work done by Madonna G. Constantine and Columbia University Professor Derald Wing Sue in 2007. Microaggressions are words, sayings, and actions that can be expelled in casual settings although they are derogatory in nature towards a person’s race, gender, sexuality, etc. Common examples include “You are pretty for a dark girl” or “I didn’t know you were that kind of gay.”

The receiver of these statements is obviously affected, but not in a manner that they themselves would deem “micro” as the term suggests. Instead, there is a macro impact upon the aggressed, and a feeling of causing only a micro impact within the aggressor. To speak simply, the term microaggression provides comfort to the wrong person in the scenario. The attacker is coddled as they now have room to label their mouth’s malicious manifestations as “accidental” or as something they perceived to be a compliment. Thus in return leaving the attacked to eschew from vocalizing how what has been uttered to them is an act of violence against them.

And specifically with the content of racially based microaggressions this violence becomes even more intense because of the brutal history connected to white people and their often fatal interactions with people of color.

In their study of the relationship between White supervisors and their Black trainees “Perceptions of Racial Microaggressions Among Black Supervisees in Cross-Racial Dyads“, Constantine and Sue explain that a level of racial clarity is needed to correctly identify a racial microaggression:

Individuals who engage in racial microaggressions usually are unaware of their actions or the impact they have on people of color (Constantine, 2007), and a person of color may not necessarily perceive a given situation as microaggressive in nature, depending on the sensitivity and racial/ethnic consciousness of the receiver. For example, an individual of color with relatively low levels of racial awareness or consciousness might overlook a microaggressive incident that a person of color with higher degrees of racial consciousness might identify as offensive.

This assessment of the interaction between an aggressor and the aggressed is logical but does not match the generality that the term ‘microaggression’ has associated with severe situations. In effect, the term neutralizes the aggressed and only allows them to be a person of color with “low levels of racial awareness.”

Being asked, “how do you wash your hair” is not an exhortation that any person regardless of a lack of melanin would ignore. But it cannot be assumed that someone who is aware of how their race separates them from the majority voice in society because they are literally a different color, would not immediately connect a statement involving their difference to their identity.

Calling macrooffenses microaggressions is reckless in the way that this only furthers the quixotic mindset of those who think they can brush such volatile rhetoric as a trivial mistake.

To those keen on the use of the word microaggression the argument that is offered within exposing micro aggressions for being macro can easily be misinterpreted as a want for people of color to meet everything, problematic someone says to them with the greatest antipathy.  But this is an irreverent mistake as it completely ignores the souls of those neurotically damaged by such speech, and again incorrectly aids those who are being destructive.

It is almost as if labeling something as a microaggression neatly wraps it up in a manner more palatable to white people who do not intend and/or want to associate themselves with the implicit (or explicit) biases that they exude. And in direct contrast lies the feelings and concerns of the person of color that have been swept away by the winds of irrelevance. Calling something what it is not will never lead to the problem being addressed in a holistic manner, thus why we still have “microaggressions” being spewed out like battery acid onto children as this article is being read.

Constantine and Sue themselves highlight the ability of a white person that believes themselves to be non-threatening to succumb to the decadence of implicit bias:

It has been found that many liberal and well-intentioned Whites harbor unconscious or preconscious negative racial feelings and attitudes toward Blacks and other people of color (Dovidio, Gaertner, Kawakami, & Hodson, 2002; Jones, 1997). In contrast to traditional formulations of racism that emphasize the psychopathology of blatant prejudice, aversive racism is manifested when there is a conflict between individuals’ denial of personal prejudice and their actual underlying unconscious negative feelings and beliefs about people of color (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1998; Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986).

If Constantine and Sue are cognizant of this it is interesting to see them still address such as offenses as “micro” and shrink the severity of the very situations they intend to philosophically illuminate.

There is a level of education that needs to take place on the actor’s part, and a level of willing to be direct about ignorant situations that the receiver of the insulting action needs to seize.

So if you are feeling angry after someone refers to you as their “whitest black friend” or attempts to slant their eyes in an attempt to “look Asian” then address the situation so that it is macro for both the offender and the offended.

Slavery wasn’t abolished because it was written off as an accident.


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