Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Curious Case of Microaggressions

The universe hates me, indicated by its microaggression towards me that caused me to stumble upon this gem a few days ago…

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Microaggressions, a term coined by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce in 1970, are described by UCLA as the “…everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” This description was originally intended to describe the subtle behavior of white people towards minorities in the U.S. – notice that the word applies nowhere else in the world – the word has been taken up by the Millennial generation to mean any slight that makes a person feel remotely ill at ease.

The cartoon illustrates the problem with these perceived slights vividly. We know what the artist was trying to say, but if we think about the instances illustrated for us, do they really stand out as ‘aggressions’? 1 – In the second panel, there could be any number of reasons for cabs passing you by. It could be they have someone to pick up or already have a passenger you’re not aware of. Or the driver is going off duty. Or they driver is the same race and gender and decide not to pick you up because they know their own kind doesn’t tip well. There could be a billion reasons why you don’t get picked up. I’m a white male; I’ve been passed up by cabs before. It’s not a microaggression. 2 – In the third panel, a young white woman looks cautiously towards our protagonist, because minorities are never seen taking the subway. Could be that our protagonist is playing some crappy music that offends the delicate ear of the little white devil. 3 – The protagonist expects a lowly educated white male to pronounce her name correctly because she has taken the time to master every language. Moreover, maybe he was asking her where she was from because he’d like her number and Brooklyn is a disqualifier for him. It was a disqualifier for the Giants and Dodgers, after all. 4 – The losing weight comment in the fifth panel is something everyone suffers from all kinds of people. Well, almost everyone. My mother remarks that I eat like a bird. Should I get offended? No, I am comfortable with my svelte weight and don’t need to answer to anyone for it. I may be lean but it’s not like my life’s in danger, Mom. So, she’s the one who needs to get over it, not me. 5 – In the sixth panel, yeah, that guy’s a dick. If there was a need to be old-fashioned, why was our protagonist given the project in the first place? But this isn’t necessarily an ‘aggression;’ it’s stupidity on part of her manager. 6 – The seventh panel doesn’t even happen. Why would the caller expect a designer to be answering the phone anyway? 7 – The burger comment is probably coming from some vegan dipshit and has nothing to do with the person suspecting our protagonist is a vegetarian because of her ethnicity. This would be a case of ‘aggression’ but there’s a quick come back for that: Hum favorably while biting into the burger. 8 – In panels nine and ten, yes, these guys are being assholes and our protagonist is right to be upset. But such a situation can happen to anyone. Panel eleven implies one has to be accepted by their peers. This bit is ridiculous. 9 – Why would anyone assume someone wanted something sugar-free? This seems like it would be a case of someone just not doing their job right, not an intentional or even unintentional attack. 10 – In panel fourteen, the cashier may be unintentionally profiling but as I always say, stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. 11 – In panel fifteen, the police are looking for a suspect; could be anyone so they’re going to ask everyone who they are. If the suspect is an ethnic woman, of course they’re going to say something to her.

Look, I know what it is to have a bad day, when it seems like the entire universe and everyone in it is out to get you. Llelena certainly should be irritated by her work situation, in which case I would start working on my resume. But just about everything else, Llelena has to give permission from within herself to be offended. Words are only words and one has to internalize them in order for them to impact us negatively. So, when people remark that sensitive people should grow thicker skin, they’re right. If a person hasn’t realized by now the world is full of idiots and assholes – and idiots and assholes are not exclusive to any group of people – they should expect the hurt that is coming your way. But it doesn’t have to hurt. They only one letting themselves get hurt is themselves. If you think you don’t deserve to be hurt, then don’t be. Getting hurt implies you do in fact deserve it. In the final panel, Llelena recognized she doesn’t deserve it and is going to kick ass tomorrow, too. That’s why she’s the protagonist.

Microaggressions are often not what Millennials think they are. If we scratch the surface of their psychology, we’re sure to find a lot of self-loathing. They protect themselves from it by imagining everyone else is the enemy. Like people of every generation before them, the real enemy lies within. 

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