The Dangers of Microaggression

While most people are aware of the larger movements for equality and justice such as immigration bans, religious subjugation, prison industrial system, etc, most people continue to engage in subtle methods of discrimination that they could consider “normal” actions/statements, otherwise known as microaggressions.

The danger is that microaggressions are usually unintentional, meaning that they are both not noticed and when others get offended, the perpetrator often believes that the offended is overreacting. Think back, have you perhaps experienced forms of microaggression in which your anger was pushed down? Or maybe you were someone who committed a microaggression?

The answer is probably yes–probably to both of these questions.

Just a few weeks ago at a dance competition, I witnessed a team of all whites with the exception of one POC (I believe a Latinx) wearing Japanese samurai clothing while dancing to Kungfu music, and also tagging a video of the routine with #brucelee. While others were staring at awe in their performance, I felt a deep disgust in my gut.
Of course after their perforamnce, I went up to them and asked “is there a single Asian member on your team?” to which they replied, “no.” And I responded “okay, it makes me uncomfortable that you are wearing samurai costumes while none of you are Asian.” I should have pushed harder instead of merely excusing their actions with “I guess you can’t do anything about it so it doesn’t matter.”

Later, to my dismay, the same team performed a different routine wearing Arabic clothing while dancing to Punjabi music, with Indian and Buddhist hand movements. Oh, and the competition awarded them “best costume.” Thankfully enough, it was not only me on my team that was equally as offended.

Why should people who have no connection with my culture and other Asian cultures, without fully understanding (i.e. no research) any historical significance, use certain cultural aspects that have previously been deemed as “exotic” and “undesirable” as a tool for entertainment? Now suddenly, centuries of orientalism are finally being ignored, completely forgetting all the marginalization of the POC who dared show their “savage” culture, because when white people use others’ culture it is finally appreciated.

A few other examples of microaggression include:

(frame grab from UC guidance for faculty)

Unlike myself, who mostly regarded the dance competition incident with bitterness toward the cultural appropriators, when one becomes a victim of microaggression, it does no good to only approach the other person with antagonism. Rather, one must point out the microaggression and how that impacts themselves, and a polite “I’d like it if you could be more careful.” Because chances are, a good portion of microaggressions are unintentional and ignorant as opposed to purposefully discriminatory.

Nevertheless, it is still crucial to publicize this issue, because as long as our language and rhetoric are built on words that are discriminatory, the framework of oppression will always be embedded. Once the recognition of microaggressions as intrinsically unjust, the theory of “victimhood culture” and the supposed overreaction of marginalized peoples, the largest obstacles against anti-microaggression, will finally be concurred.

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