For those of you not au fait with the term microaggression, it is not, as one might suspect, the act of being flicked with an elastic band at close range. It is something far more serious. You can check those antediluvian notions of overt racism, sexism, sizeism and classism at the door – years of research by microagression scientists has revealed that most “isms” are now near-imperceptible, lurking beneath hitherto innocuous words, sayings, possibly even styles of breathing.
It’s only thanks to obscure psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce (who in 1970 finally decided to throw his hat in the ring) that we have the term. And what a relief. Explicit racism and the like was starting to feel a little gauche – here was a chance for people to be casually derogatory by reading a name from the telephone book.
Familiarity with the full range of microagressions is, naturally, of vital concern to that nebulous lot known as “progressives.” (What exactly they are progressing towards is unknown, even to them, but I suspect that much of it was covered by Orwell in 1984.) And where else do progressives like to loiter than universities, that last bastion of reason, morality and awkward poetry readings?
Between getting wasted and drawing doodles on their desk, a few student activists at UCLA bullied faculty into releasing a list of all possible microaggressions, and it’s a real eye-opener. Thanks to this list, I’m no longer under the illusion that complimenting someone on their shoes is a nice thing to do (more on that egregious act later), but see it for the teeny, tiny, weeny act of violence that it is.
I’ve compiled, for the equally ignorant, some key examples of microagression from the university handbook, as well as several others gleaned from the internet. Ignore at your peril.
1. I like your shoes (said to a woman after she has presented a university lecture).
If I had a dollar for every time someone commented on my shoes, I’d be a few dollars richer. My only gripe here is that they haven’t mentioned the equally devastating microagression of NOT having your shoes commented on. Trotting out your best pair only to have them silently overlooked is an act of violence against both the person and the shoes that no amount of therapy can hope to correct.
2. Where are you from?
Nothing troubles me more than being asked where I’m from. Yes, it’s Redcliffe. No, I don’t know any good dealers. (On a side note, I also don’t like it when people ask me where I’m going – it reminds me that the trajectory of my life has been generally southbound). The interesting thing here is that assuming that asking someone (presumably not Caucasian) where they’re from automatically implies an overseas “from” effectively enacts an even more insidious form of microagression. An Asian person, for example, could easily respond “I’m from Darwin,” to which you might reply “Sweet, I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard it’s shit.”
3. I think we should have our staff retreat at the country club. Let’s plan a round of golf.
This is not only a lame suggestion, but a microaggression of the highest order. Not all of us can afford to make up for our tiny member with a Porsche, some are forced to do so with a Barina and a rear spoiler. Interestingly, I realised that I was unwittingly the subject of microaggression throughout much of my childhood. Yes, I went to a private school, but was I forced to wear a second-hand blazer? You bet your bottom dollar.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In Year 10, our school had the audacity to offer the French class a trip to Paris. Did this vagrant go, or was she forced to stay behind, staring long and hard into the face of bone-crushing poverty and social isolation? I’ll let the reader decide. Had I known then what I know now, I would have macro-aggressively sued the school for damages.
4. I believe the most qualified person should get the job.
Imagine if Trump had taken this one to heart? In my opinion, lack of experience should never get between you and your dream job. Sadly, for me, it often has, my lofty aspirations trampled beneath the feet of more “suitable” candidates. In my younger years, I was gainfully employed by Centrelink. For reasons unknown, my primary role in the company was to search for employment elsewhere and then record those attempts in a journal.
In what I now identify as a microaggression, Centrelink constantly told me I was looking for work I was “unqualified” for. “You applied for chief neurosurgeon at Royal Perth, Megan?” said a beleaguered fellow employee, rolling her eyes. “I mean, for goodness sake, you don’t even have an undergraduate.”
On another occasion: “you rang Channel 7 about their newsreader position? With absolutely no experience in broadcasting?” “Damn straight,” I replied, as my associate reached for his stamp. “Susannah Carr can’t live forever.”
5. So what do you guys speak in Japan? Asian?
To be mad at the person who asked this question is to return the microaggression in full. The cognitively delayed (yes, this is an actual term) are not to be derided, even in Asianese.
- When people think it’s weird that I listen to Carrie Underwood.
It is weird, man. It’s really weird. This is the woman who brought us songs with the following lyrics:
Stand on the box, stomp your feet, get clapping
Got a real good feeling something bad about to happen
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh
Pulled up to the church but I got so nervous
Had to back it on up, couldn’t make it to the service
Grabbed all the cash underneath my mattress
Got a real good feelin’ something bad about to happen
Oh oh oh
Oh oh oh
Need I say more?
7. I don’t see colour.
Not being able to see colour is no laughing matter. If you’re old enough, or your family was as poor as mine, you might remember having to watch Hey Hey it’s Saturday on a small black and white box that was more static than picture. Even worse, you might remember the human rights violation that was getting up from the couch to change channels. Ugh. Now imagine doing your whole life in greyscale. It’d be worse than having to watch an eternity of Red Faces.
8. Please stand and be recognised.
Imagine being in a wheelchair, hearing this and realising that you can’t stand. What you will want next, more than anything, is for everyone to stay seated. Forever. This will improve your sense of worth, your bank balance, even your love life. Heck, with enough self-righteous pity from others, you might even walk again.
Interestingly, when I investigated further, I realised that the world of bodily idioms contains a vast store of potential microaggressions, several of which I have listed below:
Keep your chin up – offensive to people with multiple chins, or none to speak of at all.
Stand tall – offensive to the vertically challenged, or what I like to call short people because I’m not a patronising wanker.
Get a foot in the door – offensive to people with no feet.
Lend a hand – same offence, different appendage.
I’m all ears.
Imagine how this guy feels.
Let one’s hair down – offensive to bald people.
See eye to eye – offensive to the blind and Steve Buscemi.
Old hand – offensive to the aged.
Cost an arm and a leg – this one is appalling, because it’s classist as well. The next thing you know they’ll be challenging amputees to a round of golf.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s tough being a minority. Quarter Jew that I am, I’ve known my fair share of heartache, hostility and shame. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the most of the money a small amount of… If anything, I’d actually like to be more Jewish, but that’s the way the kugel crumbles.
I’ve got some serious connections in the Jewish community, though – more than enough to make up for the remaining impurity in my blood. Apparently, my great great grandfather, Gustus Luber (or G-banger Lubes, as he was known back in the day) brought the scrolls of the Torah over from the UK, as well as founding Perth’s first synagogue. On a less verifiable note, my mum claims that we’re related to Benjamin Disraeli, Britain’s first (and only) Jewish Prime Minister, and all round good time guy.
When I press her on this, she is adamant. “It’s documented somewhere” she says, before rattling off a list of Jewish names – Presslers and Solomons, Greenbergs and Brecklers, all of them apparently friends or relatives. “All of them, mum?” I ask, knowing her fondness for embellishment. “Everybody in Perth who is Jewish is related to me,” she says. “Every single one.”
Given my illustrious lineage and the fact that mum knows literally every Jew in Perth, you’d think I’d be immune to aggressions from fellow Semites. Wrong. My brief foray into the world of microagressions has taught me many things, one of those being that haters are just as likely to come from inside the fold as out.
There will always be someone, somewhere, who will question your identity, your ethnicity, your very person. Such was the case for me recently when my heritage was challenged by a sister of full-blooded (or “real” in her estimation) Jewish descent. It was at my brother’s art exhibition, no less. Over an unassuming glass of chardonnay.
I was midway through a speech about the relevance of conceptual art in the age of globalisation when I was interrupted by my mum. She wished to introduce me to a childhood acquaintance. The woman, bedecked in pearls, and doused in what I can only imagine was an entire bottle of perfume, gave me the handshake equivalent of a wet willy and proceeded to add her tawdry two bobs to my already fully-realised musings.
Now I can’t recall exactly what turn in conversation prompted me to mention the fact that I was Jewish, but, as my friends often remind me, contextual relevance is seldom required. “You find a way to bring it up, dude,” they’ll say. “You just do.”
“A fellow Jew, eh?” said my new friend, her attention piqued. “And has that always come down through the female line?” She took another sip of her drink, feigning nonchalance and failing miserably. The room started to spin. My sense of balance deserted me, along with my composure. “Well…” I paused. “Well, technically…” This shmendrik had me by the matzos, and she knew it. She had found the rot in my family tree and her Jewish stock had skyrocketed.
“Alas,” she purred, taking my silence as confirmation. “Alas, you’re not really Jewish.” The kvetch could barely contain her delight. “It has to come down from the woman’s side. Always the woman’s side.”
This was not how I was going down, though. Not like this. If the entirety of recorded history has taught us anything, it’s that us Jews (quarter or nay) don’t go down without a fight. No full-blown minority was going to take my birthright from me. Not tonight. Not ever.
Instead, I referenced the one thing I had on her. The one thing that visibly evidenced my Jewish bloodline. “Your nose,” I said, gesturing towards her slender snout. Involuntarily, she raised one hand to it, resting it there. “It’s so lovely and small,” I said. “So straight.” I saw the cogs turning, the triumphant look vanishing from her face, and in its place a rising pink that moved from her cheeks upwards, towards a greying hairline. “I’d give anything to have a nose like that,” I continued. “But instead I got this.” She followed my index finger to the proboscis that serves as my nose, took in its length and width, its tell-tale aquiline curve. Defeat imminent, she muttered something about shmutzy shikses and moved on to greener pastures.
I’ve never liked my nose. Always wanted it to be smaller, thinner, less intrusive. But tonight, for the first time in my life, it had served a noble purpose: It had vanquished my microagressor.