A Note on Microagressions

A microagression can be defined as brief everyday exchanges oftentimes unintentional and automatic that send negative messages to people because of their identity membership. Microagressions are often not meant to offend people; they are not said with that purpose. So they’ll be little brief things that people say when they’re not really looking out for people’s feelings but also not thinking they’ll have an effect on anyone. Microagressions can deal identities such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, age, and disability, among other identities. I’m going to list a couple microagressions and then advice you how to deal with them if it happens to you.

That’s so gay.

That’s ghetto.

That’s retarded.

So who’s the man in the relationship?

So you’re white right?

So are you a man or a woman?

Have you ever had real sex?

What bathroom do you use?

When I look at you I don’t see color. I’m colorblind.

I always knew you were queer.

The ever popular one is “you’re so gay.” This is what I always think of when I first think of the word microagression. We hear this a lot when people are trying to refer to things that are stupid or strange. There was a whole commercial about it for awhile in order to try and educate people.

People will also describe things are retarded and ghetto. This is really pinpointing certain identities. Saying that’s retarded kind of hinting to people with disabilities. While retardation isn’t really used as a disability anymore, it can still be offensive to people with disabilities and shouldn’t be used. Ghetto is another word that people will use to describe people or things or clothes that is just offensive to those who identify that way.

So who’s the man in the relationship? This is often referring to same sex relationships, with the stereotype that even though they are the same sex, the gender binary somehow still applies. When it doesn’t have to. Questioning people this can unintentionally make them question there relationship, as if it needs to conform to this idea of man and woman. It can be offensive and trigger confusion and unnecessary worries, which is offensive.

So you’re White right? While race is a person’s identity, it really shouldn’t matter, so there’s no need to question a person on their racial identity. Asking this is making it seem like being the suggested race matters to the person questioning it. This is also a touchy topic for some people that not everyone feel comfortable talking about.

So are you a man or a woman? Gender is so irrelevant, so one really shouldn’t be questioning it as if it matters to them in the friendship. Gender identity is a personal one and asking it can make it seem like they need to conform to binary genders when they don’t need to at all. The person asking this may just be wondering, but gender identity should be something people share on their own terms, if they feel comfortable doing so. Really, though, it doesn’t matter.

Have you ever had real sex? My question would be, “what is real sex?” This can refer to same sex couples, questioning if they’ve had sex with the opposite sex. This is really none of their business so they really have no right to question one’s sexual past.

What bathroom do you use? This goes back to gender of being so irrelevant. Since we don’t live in a world of gender inclusive bathrooms, asking one’s gender is like asking their gender, which is really uncalled for. Bathrooms can be a place where people who do not conform to the gender binary or are transitioning may find dangerous. Therefore, talking or asking about them is probably something they don’t want to do.

When I look at you, I don’t see color. I’m colorblind. This idea of people being colorblind really makes race a hard thing to talk about and a lot of people. Not only people who are people of color, because you are not seeing their experience and identity of a person of color. It’s also those who want to talk about race. Saying you’re colorblind is like saying you just don’t want to talk about race because you see everyone as the same and equal, which is not true.

I always knew you were queer. This is a tricky one. Sometimes queer individuals may find this as a small a kind of acceptance, but not always. It’s talking about someone’s process of discovering their identity, which is really none of anyone’s business.

To combat these microagressions you have to pick and choose your battles. So basically being the ally or the person who is offended by these things, you should really say is this person going to listen to me? Is it really right for them to say this?

Probably not. But also, will they listen to me if I say, “Do you really mean sexual orientation when you say ‘that’s so gay’ or describe that tongue ring as gay?” Oftentimes when people say microagressions and you call them out on it, people will say things like “I didn’t mean it like that” or “You know what I meant.” I think in that case, it may be something that you should bring up to them afterwards. Kind of in an attempt to let it settle and have them take in your ideas on what they really meant. You can call them out on it, like “Why are you saying that?” or “Don’t say that, especially around me.” Also, “You really shouldn’t that.” Then you can go back to it later and tell them that saying things like “that’s so gay” or “I’m colorblind” really isn’t correct, and it can really be offensive to people. Afterwards, you can refer them to more educational articles to explain that to them, like websites, blogs, or YouTube videos may be easier than explaining it yourself. Sometimes that can be hard to do, especially if it is a family member or if you don’t identify within that community.

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