Remember on Seinfeld, when one of the characters (usually Elaine) would get all freaked out over some minor slight? Much of that show’s comedy flowed from conniptions over mild social transgressions, such as neglecting to send a thank-you card or issuing improper credit for the big salad or speaking too close to one’s face.
Well, you’ll be delighted to know that such petty behaviors have their own sociological term, but only if they are directed at ethnic minorities.
In such cases, they are called acts of racial microaggression, and they are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
Microaggression is what occurs when security guards follow black people around stores, or an Asian American is told he speaks English well, or a Latino is mistaken for a day laborer. It’s the little things, subtle behaviors that a person may not even notice — unless they are directed at you.
In its nuances, microaggression is different from some racist nut screaming epithets and yelling at us to get out of the country (I believe that would be considered bugfuck macroaggression, technically speaking).
There are also microinsults and microinvalidation, and the truly alarming concept of microassault. I assume that last one involves bigots with tiny fists.
Just about any ethic minority can give examples of microaggression from his or her own life. These are moments when we are told (not overtly, of course) that we don’t belong.
The existence of this concept is undeniable. But does that mean racial microaggression has any real power? In other words, is this a real problem, the infamous death by a thousand cuts, or is it just fancied-up whining?
An argument can be made that, yes, a person repeatedly subjected to innuendo and between-the-lines insults will soon believe that he or she is inferior. But one could also say that such jabs are too weak, even when accumulated, to do any lasting damage.
I would be interested to know if anyone has done any research on the real-world effects of this phenomenon. I would also like to know if people who indulge in racial microaggression are accidental racists.
In any case, the punishment for such behavior could not be clearer, nor more severe.
That’s right: No soup for you.