Microaggressions and the one that got me

I experience microaggressions constantly. Most of them are race-based, but occasionally I’ll get one that’s gender-based, like “why don’t you consult with your husband about what kind of windows to get”. (Of course, he gets his fair share of “men are domestically useless” microaggressions, which also sucks.) If you’re not hip to microaggressions, which is totally okay, they are the brief and common interactions with somebody who is Other to you that involve subtle and often unintentional but engrained bigotry. I found this paper to be good reading.

In any case, while I’m generally not upset by individual occurrences, it is exhausting and painful on the whole, and I do find myself getting defensive about the “where are you from (no really where are you from ORIGINALLY)” questions. I’m aware of said defensiveness, and try to be good about giving people a chance to move past it, but I’ll admit that sometimes I end up just stopping cold and staring at the asker. As we hung out with other musician friends at our favorite little dive bar during our brief stint in Wichita, it happened. But it didn’t go as I expected, at all.

White girl: “Hey, where are you from?”

Me: *stares* “Uh….”

Girl: (louder) “Where are you from?”

Me: *still staring*

Husband: (walks over to rescue me from being mean) Um… well, we are from the symphony orchestra.

Girl: “Oh. Cool! I thought maybe you guys were with the Disney on Ice people. I’ve never seen such a big group of skinny attractive people together at a bar here.”

So, microaggressions and aggressive racism aren’t going to stop happening, and I probably won’t stop bristling at THAT question, but I have to admit: she got me, and she made our night. For all the demoralizing and demeaning experiences, it’s nice to remember a positive one instead, even if she probably figured I was Mulan. 🙂


5 responses to “Microaggressions and the one that got me”

  1. Curious George Avatar
    Curious George

    I’ve never heard the term microaggressions, so thanks for that.

    I find this topic interesting, but particularly your obsession with it. It’s understandable you think about it a lot, as you seemingly experience it a lot. But, your expectations of others is a form of aggression of its own. Except, in my opinion, your version is worse – because you’re intentional about it.

    You know generally these people mean no harm, but you get mad because they don’t word things exactly as you’d like them to. You’re pissed over semantics, not intent. There are surely incidents where people have not-so-great intentions when asking you these questions, but I would venture a guess from personal experience and from observations of your public comments on the matter, that most of the time the incidents are not happening with malicious intent. Call it ignorance if you like. It doesn’t matter. Intent is the real language here.

    Block out the noise and listen for the intent. The language of intent is far more revealing.

    1. Helen Avatar

      I’m not intentional about it, nor am I any kind of actively angry – it’s a conditioned response based on years of experiencing both microaggressions and open and hostile racism. I will never, EVER attack a stranger for asking that kind of question, because I do not read intent from strangers. That’s exactly what microaggressions are about – common interactions that display unintentional bias. I am admitting to having a negative internal reaction that I am sometimes not able to immediately overcome externally. I have much worse and much more personal things that actually piss me off.

      Thanks for taking something that I thought was a positive experience and making it ugly.

  2. Japh Avatar

    Ha! It’s always nice when people surprise you like that. You’re expecting what usually ends up bad, and BAM! Nice surprise 🙂

  3. Japh Avatar

    Oh, and I love that YouTube clip!

  4. kristyn Avatar

    Ahhh, I can just see it now…. The pairs competition featuring you and A, complete with sparkly outfits 😉

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