Prejudice leaks

I wonder about the term “micro-aggressions,” because they’re neither.  They seem to me to be prejudice leaks, neither aggressive nor — because they reveal an entire worldview — micro.*

We all have internal worldviews that are full of prejudices and assumptions.  Some true, some false; some examined, some unexamined; some praiseworthy, some benign, some offensive.  Then we encase the whole mess in the persona we are presenting to the world.  A thick exoskeleton of personality that is all most people ever see.

Image: Michelin Tire logo - human figure made of tires, with the effect of a puffy, tire-encased human.

Many people choose to encase themselves in an open-minded persona.  Maybe it helps them fit in to a liberal social circle or workplace.  Or maybe they genuinely believe they are open-minded.  It’s important to their self-image.  Or maybe it’s important to you to believe they’re open-minded.  They’re your friend, teacher, colleague, doctor, pastor.  You want to believe they see you as you are.

Then they say:

I’m so sorry your husband uses a wheelchair” ::furrowed eyebrows concerned face::  or

“are you the nanny?”  or

“where are you really from?” or

“you must be the first person in your family to go to college.”  or

“you’re so articulate!” or

is the father still in the picture?” or

“I know your kid has two moms, but who’s the real father?”

and a little fissure forms in the exoskeleton and the prejudice leaks out.**

Image: Michelin Tire logo - human figure made of tires -- with a small hole in his head and lines indicating a leak.

Suddenly you can see, in that small leak, the entire worldview that sits inside the protective exoskeleton.  That they view disability through a lens of pity.  That they have seen your skin color or facial features and constructed an entire narrative that has nothing to do with you.  That their views of LGBTQ families are stuck somewhere around 1950.

In many cases, it’s not aggressive,*** but it’s not micro.  It’s an inadvertent glimpse of an entire worldview you didn’t know existed, or didn’t want to know existed, or hoped against hope and experience did not exist, or perhaps they didn’t know existed or had been suppressing or had never stopped to think about or didn’t even have the framework to understand.

Prejudice leaks.

It doesn’t sound as cool as micro-aggression.  It sounds like something that requires padded undergarments.  But I honestly think it’s a more accurate description.

******************

*I realize I’m wading into an arena that has been the subject of a good deal of academic thought, research, and writing, and that I have 0.00 qualifications to take on that analysis.  This is a strictly non-academic view, from someone who has witnessed many real-life prejudice leaks that seemed neither micro nor aggressive.

**Not bad for someone who can’t draw, eh?

***There are plenty of cases where comments like these are aggressive, but in that case I wouldn’t call them “micro-aggressions,” I’d call them “prejudice” and perhaps also “being an asshole.”

6 thoughts on “Prejudice leaks

  1. GW

    Yup. As someone who has people with disabilities in her family, adopted children, people who are lesbian, people of color, people of exotic looks – I believe you are correct. I am, of course, not entirely free from prejudice. No one is. I don’t believe, however, that most people who say such things have any idea how harmful their behavior is.

    I have a good friend whose family heritage is Pakistani. He has spent his whole life trying to find a place to fit in. People ask all the time, “Where are you from, really?”, “Are you Muslim?”, and other insulting questions. He is a very well educated, talented, well traveled and interesting person. But these commentators never get to know that.

    My oldest child of color is now 51. I thought things would be different. by now. I am a woman with a lot of degrees under her belt, who also has chaired Boards of Directors, is an accomplished retired high tech manager, a successful entrepreneur, and who still also has people say, “I had no idea you were so educated, were so accomplished…” After all I am an old white WOMAN, so how could that be. And, yes, I can also bake cookies.

    Thank you for continuing to bring these assumptions about people to light.

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  2. ginny1ward

    Yup. As someone whose family has representatives of all the groups you mentioned and more, I applaud you for bringing these thoughtless and prejudicial thoughts out in the open, again. As a very well educated, retired accomplished high tech manager, entrepreneur, and someone who has served on many Boards of Directors, and would be well respected if I were a man my age, I also deal with people who say, “I had no idea that you…” I am, of course, a very old white woman, an early baby boomer, so I must fit the Victorian ideals befitting my age. Hmmm, not. However, I can peel a banana with a knife, set a formal dinner table, and also make cookies, so I guess that makes it all right.

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    1. Amy Robertson Post author

      “Very old” women rock! (Though I call bullshit on “very old.”) I salute your vast array of talents, including kick-ass activism for disability rights.

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  3. DeeScribes

    I enjoyed this, and think your “prejudice leaks” idea is spot on. One of my “favorite’s” I hear regularly is, “Oh, you work?!” Because of course a woman with an advanced degree, national certification as a speech-language pathologist, and a kick-ass red wheelchair can’t possibly work, right?!

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  4. ramblingalongwithnora

    I wish I could touch someone and have all the hurts washed away and especially the ignorant hurts. I am sure that as we take each small step upward and breathe in and breathe out, we are overcoming all the faces of “prejudice”. Looking back on my life I see how often I was innocently wrong. I was just thinking about telling Amy the story of our nursing school talent shows & they were great and such a release from all the pressures. The best one was our minstrel show where we performed in black face and sang some beautiful songs. This was in 1956 and, until recently, it never ever dawned on us that this could hurt anyone. But, at the same time, about 1955, I refused to be part of my high schools ignorance about race. Yes, there is a blog about this and you can go to the site listed below. In addition to all of this, I knew only one Jewish person and we were best friends in middle school. I had no idea she was Jewish and I think neither of us cared. We found great comfort in our friendship. All of this wears and exhausts all of us but their all victories by the lives we lead and when we really must speak up or really must hold our tongues….I am never sure what to do most of the time. Thank you for this wonderful blog.

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