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“That’s so gay.”

“You’re just a angry black woman.”

“He only likes her because she’s exotic.”

These are some common microaggressions we often hear in our daily lives, especially on a college campus. As perfectly said by the hosts of Vanderbilt’s Kitchen Table Series on Microaggressions, microaggressions are like mosquito bites. They are statements that often are not intended to be rude or hurtful, but instead allude to broader systems of oppression. One microaggression may be a nuisance or even go by unnoticed like a mosquito bite. Multiple microaggressions piled on together, however, may constantly bite at you and stand in the way of you living in everyday life.

As I looked around the room, I saw a good audience turnout with 23 students, excluding facilitators. There were only four guys and the majority of the students were Caucasian. Especially since microaggressions are issues that are often tiptoed around, it was not surprising that despite almost all seats in the room being taken there were hardly any voices heard. I was almost taken aback. As a minority, I could list so many microaggressions I had heard off the top of my head and it was eye-opening to see others struggle in thinking of them. It made me realize how much there is to learn and teach about microaggressions, especially from an individual who identifies with an oppressed group.

So how can we combat microaggressions? Are they even worth arguing about sometimes?

One responsibility that host Michaela Wiebe from Vanderbilt’s Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center stressed is the responsibility of the more privileged in listening, learning and being mindful. Albeit tough, they have a responsibility of bringing these conversations into the classroom and other settings in a disciplined manner.

It is also pertinent to practice Call Out culture or Political Correctness (PC) culture. Some believe it is not productive because people sometimes feel attacked and leads to people moving comments behind closed doors with others who will reaffirm their beliefs. However, Call Out culture is incredibly dependent on how you approach the situation and how others receive it. For the approacher, the best thing to say sometimes is just “I know you didn’t mean anything by this, but it really hurt me.” For the receiver, it is best to be grateful when someone calls you out. It is far easier to say “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to upset you when I said that. Thanks for bringing this to my attention and I work on finding a better way of saying this,” instead of arguing an issue that you have not experienced.

Microaggressions are even more difficult to discuss in a professional setting, where power dynamics are in play. Addressing microaggressions are even harder and more risky. Sometimes it is okay to step back and let some of them go, especially if you’re not certain how you can respectfully call out your boss or a peer.

It’s okay to know your limits and know when something is worth arguing about. A great point Wiebe pointed out is sometimes people are determined to misunderstand you. After all, is it really worthwhile to go to a Neo-Nazi rally to explain Black Lives Matter?

All in all, microaggressions are tricky. They hurt without other people even knowing that they hurt. However, it is important to educate others and to bring these conversations into classrooms and our daily lives. It is also important to know when to step back and let some of them go, especially with people who are determined to misunderstand you.

 

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Rozi Xu

Vanderbilt

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