No Offense: The Dilemma over Unintended Racism
They are small, almost invisible. They are being spotted on college campuses from UCLA to the University of Michigan to Fordham to Columbia. They are as elusive and questionable, so tiny yet so destructive. They are called microaggressions: the slight remarks, subtle innuendos, insults, and actions that come off as unintended discrimination.
Racial microaggressions have been called the “new face of racism.” Not the overt insults of the past (for example, calling someone the n-word), these remarks and questions often seem innocent. Perhaps you’ve told a person of color, “When I look at you, I don’t see color,” only to have that person think to themselves, “Well, my ethnicity is a part of me.” Or maybe you’ve asked, “Where are you really from?,” expecting to hear a country in Asia, but getting the response, “California.”
While not straightforward insults, microaggressions operate on an assumption of the other person being different—whether focusing in on specific cultural elements like name, appearance, or speech patterns, or the ways someone doesn’t fit the stereotype of a certain group. They put into words or action the fact that a person is being judged against a preconception, calling into question their identity and social capital.
We all want to be loved and accepted for who we are. Microaggressions are hurtful because they deny self-identification with a particular cultural group; ...1