The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a microaggression as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.” Microaggressions are viewed by some as being subtly oppressive, reinforcing wrongful stereotypes and racial biases. While I don’t 100 percent agree with that statement, I do believe that people need to be more keenly aware of the language they use in certain situations if they are to be as considerate as possible (being considerate is something we should all strive for, regardless of what we believe.)
Examples of microaggressions range from fairly innocent questions to pretty egregious statements. For context, an example of a microaggression could be asking a person of color you may not know very well where they are from. This simple question, to some, implies that that person is not a true American and that they will forever be a foreigner in the U.S. due to the color of their skin. Another one is saying to someone who is from Mexico in a surprised tone, “You don’t speak Spanish?” after they have just told you that they don’t know any Spanish. Arguably, this unfairly perpetuates the stereotype that everyone born in Mexico speaks Spanish. Lastly, if you say to a person of color that they do not act like a typical black person, you are blatantly stereotyping all people of color.
As a moderate conservative, I agree that some microaggressions are indeed hurtful, but depend on the circumstances in which they are said and need not be used as means to validate the subtle oppression of society towards marginalized and underrepresented groups of people. Simply asking someone where they are from could be a person’s way of genuinely being interested in knowing the location of someone else’s birth. Furthermore, asking someone who speaks English as a second language to teach you words or phrases in their native language may just be one way of trying to show interest in another person’s culture. The individuals in both of these situations ask polite questions, while genuinely caring about the answer they get back. This makes all the difference as opposed to just making conversation.
Calling transgender people by their preferred gender pronouns should also be looked at as the polite thing to do. Far-right conservatives should realize that the reason they are disliked is because they advocate for free speech over common courtesy. When discussing the transgender community with a Catholic priest, I was told that I should avoid acquiescing to requests by transgender individuals to use their preferred gender pronouns. In his mind, calling someone who identifies as transgender by their preferred pronoun would reinforce the theologically unsound notion that they are not the gender their sex organs prove them to be, and as Catholics we should not enable or reinforce ideas that do not conform to what God teaches humanity through the Catholic Church. In reference to the transgender community specifically, I do not agree with this notion one bit. If I am to truly love my neighbor as God calls His people to do, calling them by their preferred gender pronoun would be my first step in showing them that love. I don’t have to agree with someone else’s life choices to love them as someone who is created in God’s image. It is only through this mutual love and respect that a person of faith can help change the many negative preconceived notions the transgender community has about those who identify as a Christian and/or a Catholic.
Since delving deeper into the racial issues at Concordia, I have also come to the conclusion that the far-right conservative perspective on microaggressions is quite insensitive. In short, they see that policing everyday language to protect the feelings of marginalized people is fascistic. They also think that they should be able to say whatever they want, and that people who experience microaggressions should have “thicker skin” and not be so easily offended by ignorant people unintentionally causing them grief by asking them where they are from, when that’s the fifth time that day they have been asked that question. Thinking that people should have thicker skin is no way to address the real problem, which is that the individual who is experiencing microaggressions is genuinely, emotionally hurt. Some far-right conservatives also believe that if someone is hurt that much from a microaggression that they may need to seek professional help from a therapist because they probably have a more serious, underlying mental health issue. Regardless of whether this is true, a safe environment for people to learn and form genuine relationships with their peers should be something that everyone strives toward. This includes attempting to convey a level of courtesy towards those that may be emotionally hurting. Additionally, no one should strive to offend or disrespect others in the name of free speech.
Creating a safe and care-free environment for those who experience microaggressions on a daily basis is hard. When attempting to address the problem of emotionally hurt individuals, some try and ostracize those who said the microaggressions. This will only piss off those who they are attempting to change. Going to the college administration and asking them to create a hate speech policy to include microaggressions is also not the best way to solve this issue. Banning microaggressive language will only anger free speech advocates on campus and give them fuel to say that they are the ones being oppressed on campus. While this may be true, and banning hate speech may be an infringement on one’s freedom of speech, extending the courtesy of simply calling people what they want to be called, and realizing that certain questions and phrases are insensitive, are simple ways to build relationships with others and create a positive, inclusive environment for everyone.