Are you a victim of microaggression?

Daily Life

March 16, 2012


Candice Chung Writer Daily Life


Maybe it’s the dim lighting, or maybe it’s the soft 80s rock – but there’s something about catching a taxi alone at night that gives cab drivers the illusion they’re on a speed date with you. At least that’s one way of explaining the huge number of uncomfortably intimate conversations I’ve had with taxi drivers over the years.

There are the standard ice-breakers – whether I’m single, what I do, where I’d been, and it usually ticks along politely until I get one question wrong.

Driver: “So, where are you from?”
Me: “Oh, I grew up here.”

Driver: “But I mean, where are you from, originally? What are you Thai? Malaysian?”

And that, I’ve come to recognise, is my cue to provide a solid explanation for being Asian. Of course, I could’ve mentioned I was born in Hong Kong from the start, but what if they decide to compliment me on my English? It’d be rude to take credit for what’s practically the only thing I speak.

Interestingly, the question of ancestry hardly ever comes up in casual banters for my Anglo Saxon friends (although they too are descended from immigrants). We may laugh at the overwhelming percentage of Republican voters who still believe Barack Obama is Muslim, but even in a truly multicultural society like ours, are certain cultural and religious backgrounds perceived as more ‘authentically Australian’ than others?

The term ‘microagression’ was first coined by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe the everyday things we say or do which causes someone to feel ‘othered’. Originally a racially-related phenomenon, its definition has since evolved to include any subtle verbal or non-verbal communication that conveys insensitivity towards a person’s sex, social status, physical appearance or sexuality.

Microaggressive remarks can often come in the form of back-handed compliments. For example, “She’s gorgeous for a big girl” or “I would never be able to tell you’re GAY!” Essentially, they are messages that appear innocent enough on the surface but contain ‘demeaning meta-communications’ to its recipients.

According to Columbia University psychologist Derald Wing Sue, “Most people… harbour unconscious biases and prejudices that leak out in many interpersonal situations.” Just think of all the talk-back radio rants that begin with “Now, I’m not racist/ sexist/ homophobic, but …” or any number of ‘well-meaning’ comments that finish with: [chuckle] “No offence”. And since most ‘microaggressors’ are genuinely unaware of any wrongdoings, this makes it nearly impossible to confront the situation without evoking paranoia.

Awkward Microaggressive Moments

Ironically, Sue’s research also found that most of us are actually better at handling overt acts of discrimination than subtle insults, because at least the former has “no guesswork involved” whereas victims of microaggression are “often left to question what actually happened”.

The challenge ultimately lies in making the invisible visible – however ‘insignificant’ it may be. And we can do this, writes Cultural Anthropologist Zara Zimbardo, by “returning the gaze”: “In feminist discourse, it’s when “the targeted ‘other’ look[s] back at the non-target “norm”, putting them in the spotlight of scrutiny.” Viral videos like S**t White Girls Say to Black Girls or the Microaggression Project – where contributors are encouraged to submit snippets of microaggressive insults – are great examples of putting the spotlight on the myriad ‘invisible things’ that make up a marginalised experience.

In the end, this is an awkward subject because it often requires well-meaning people to reflect on their own bias and privilege. Sure, you may object to racism, but do you speak really, reaaally slowly when you order Thai home delivery? Perhaps no one sums up the value of self-awareness better than David Foster Wallace in his famous ‘This is water’ speech:

“Two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?””

It’s surprising what goes unnoticed sometimes.

Read more

Microaggressions Facebook group


17 thoughts on “Are you a victim of microaggression?

  1. Anti-Whites don’t have a problem with Korea being an Asian country.

    Anti-Whites don’t have a problem with Haiti being a Black country.

    Anti-White don’t have a problem with Saudi Arabia being an Arab county.

    But anti-White DO have a problem with Britain, France, USA, Canada Germany or ANY country being a White country.

    They say they are “anti-racist.” What they are is anti-White.

    • Idiots like yourself look around the world and try to assume that other countries, such as the heavily over-populated Korea, the disaster-ridden, undemocratic Haiti and the fiercely religious and mono-cultural Saudi Arabia can somehow be comparable with our country – especially when it comes to immigration policy.

      What WE care about is the population demographics in OUR country. Any other country is IRRELEVANT.

      Are you really disappointed that you cannot migrate to Haiti or Saudi Arabia? Does that make you really sad, and feel an overwhelming sense of entitlement to living in those countries? Enough to despise anyone that comes FROM those countries to OUR country? Did you want to go and live in Korea? Or perhaps China or India – both of which have populations in the BILLIONS?

      White is not a race. You’re a social retard. TRY and debate that motherfucker.

  2. Racist is a code word for fucktard.
    Person is a code-word for human being.
    Two arms, two legs, one head, two eyes, one mouth and one nose is a code-word for anyone from the planet Earth.
    White, red, yellow, brown, black, blue, green; all part of white when you look at the spectrum of colours.
    ‘White’ is not a race.
    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-fucktard.
    Whoever you are, you’re a fucktard!

  3. Really though, who’d want to go on a speed date with the piece of shit that wrote this? Looks like it’s a male. Maybe that’s why the cockheads who run this page included this rubbish. Is it “transgender”?

    • So Lloydy you couldn’t come up with any counter points so attempted to insult her based on a solitary headshot. Well done on your masterful concession of the argument as a while and any arguments that may crop up later in the comments. Anything you say, have said or will say are now null and void.

    • You didn’t read the article, did you lloyd? Just saw it was a woman, and decided to have a go at her appearance.

      Are these the Australian values we’re meant to be encouraging-calling women ugly if they same something you don’t like?

    • Really???

      Are you really that stupid Lloydy (Craig) or am I misinterpreting you here?

      Did you honestly get one sentence into the article, fixate on a metaphor and then go running with it, or are you just taking the piss?

      I sincerely hope you are taking the piss (in which case you are simply an insufferable troll), because if you’re not then you just rose in my rankings into the top ten mind-numbingly, tear-jerkingly, brain-damaged moronic imbeciles that I’ve had the extreme displeasure of gaining an insight into through this blog.

      Oh, and by the way, based on your little assessment there, I would have to say that if mentality was appearance, you would look like a rancid, pustulent boil on the backside of incontinent, dysentery-splattered, rabid hyena.

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