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.
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.**
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.
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.”