I first heard about Microagressions from Sally Haslanger at a workshop at Rice University. The term seem to me to collect together all the various kinds of actions, verbal and other, that express directly or indirectly the negative stereotypes someone falls under.
it turns out that microagressions can bring out a lot of aggression on the part of critics. A (silly)writer in the CHE (behind a wall) maintains that claims about being the target of microaggressions are creating a victimhood culture. And the discussion at Daily Nous is fraught enough that it could fracture whatever peace of mind one has before reading it.
So what is happening? Here’s one take that seems plausible. We all now know that there are a lot of implicit biases lurking below our usual self-awareness. A lot of microaggressions are signs of these biases and/or other more explicit ones. And taken together, their targets are at least fatigued by these mini-assaults. We want this stuff to stop. Among other things, they are harmful. But guess how the perps feel! THEY ARE OFTEN UNHAPPY. Free speech, don’t ya know. Check out the CHE or Daily Nous.
If you’re new to the topic of Microaggressions, the following might be helpful.
To some extent the examples and indeed discussions reflect that the fact that in many areas white middle/upper class men are the source of relevant norms and Microaggressions may place some members of the rest of humanity below that.
For example, a woman who warms to a philosophical debate may be told to calm down. White men are cool headed, while women are emotional in a way that can threaten the quality of a philosophical discussion, the stereotype has it. But there are certainly areas where white guys can be the target of microaggressions. For example, a white guy trying out for a basketball team may hear snickering from players of color as he tries to shoot a basket. Or a father with his 6 year old daughter who is trying to buy a birthday party outfit for her may find assumptions of his incompetence are clearly communicated to him and his daughter.
These incidents can be harmful. It is harder to shoot well when people are snickering. No one needs to leave a clothing store with a child worried about her parent’s competence.
in the arenas where white men form the stereotype of the good performer, others may find these microaggressions abound. You might, if you are like me, be treated like the madwoman who has escaped from the attic. Or you may find that the graduate student on whose work you coomented failed to see you had given arguments to back up your criticisms. (These are true cases; the second has happened twice at professional meetins. The first too many times to count.) Such cases are not going to ruin one’s career, but they are professionally harmful and sometimes just appalling.