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Thread: Microaggressions

  1. #1
    Scobblelotcher Sistamatic's Avatar
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    Microaggressions

    I just ran across this article and thought it might spark a lively debate on the forum. It does an excellent job of approaching the subject from different viewpoints.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/...ptical/405106/
    Insults are effective only where emotion is present. -- Spock, "Who Mourns for Adonais?" Stardate 3468.1.

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    Member Thoth's Avatar
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    Forming thoughts, in the meantime the cited New Yorker satire article is worth a read.

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    I'm white and live in Hawaii. People ask me all the time "Where are you from originally?". They're assuming I wasn't born here (and they're correct), even though it's entirely possible. It's probably not solely based on my skin color, but other minor observations. I recognize it, but it's never something worth addressing or criticizing during a genuinely polite conversation (I also do recognize that being a straight, white, cis male precludes me from joining the oppression olympics)

    I agree with the critics here. If this were an ideal world, there'd be some merit to conversations about things like this. It'd be great to be more aware, and more polite in conversations. However, in practice it just ends up being a bludgeon used to beat people over the head with. The ones policing politeness end up generating more aggression than the original issue.

    There is a strong desire to define oneself as a victim. When you're a victim, you get validation and attention, and people are no longer able to criticize you. Consequently, these colleges are pumping out narcissistic, entitled, thin-skinned scolds who lack critical thinking skills. Treating them with these kid gloves is leaving them utterly unprepared to deal with the real world.

    Here's an example of what i'm talking about:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SISq_y_WhKg

  4. #4
    Senior Member
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    So people are whining about people whining?

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    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    I don't know any genuine victims of anything who go to great lengths to portray themselves as such. People who have the self-awareness to recognize their structural oppression don't usually hope to project an image of helplessness as much as one of strength; that they are wise to the reality of things and are someone to be reckoned with. The word "victim" itself is a very incomplete definition for an oppressed life experience, in other words, a disempowering one. I would like to believe that "victim mentality" is a phrase coined by elites to denigrate and disqualify anyone pointing out inequalities.

    The part of the article stating that some of the most privileged people in the country spend a lot of time dwelling on how they are victimized kinda struck me. There is something weird about Americans. On one hand, people seem almost desperate not to be white - cause that's boring, and it's now a fad to have roots in something that might lend a depth and meaning to your existence that you can't fabricate for yourself - but whenever someone might gratuitously remark on another's minority culture, race or background, shit hits the fan.

    I don't wanna get too basic here, but unless someone is actually putting me down because of my ethnicity, culture, sex or whatever, then I don't give a flying fuck what people think or say that I look like.
    Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent. - Mao

  6. #6
    Scala Mountains Resonance's Avatar
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    It's pretty interesting. I am willing to believe that the policing of it is getting out of hand - I don't know what all is going on in American schools and there have been some questionable stories about Canadian ones. But on the other hand, I think 'life is unfair and people are racist and you just have to deal with it' is kind of a cop-out when we know how malleable society is.

    I experienced something that could be considered a microaggression in one of my compsci courses - the prof wanted to do a demo of the Turing Test using the old parlour game it was based on, where you have one person pretend to be the other and the audience has to guess which one was who, but since none of us knew each other that well, he wanted to do it based on gender. Given that there were only two girls in the class (of about 50), both socially anxious introverts who didn't want to be in the spotlight, it took a lot of coaxing and pressuring and it was extremely uncomfortable and entirely because of gender. Rather than reporting it to the authorities or publicly shaming him or whatever (would that have even gotten any traction? it might have, actually), I sent him an e-mail afterwards explaining how I felt and why I didn't think it was a good idea and suggesting some alternatives. He apologized and explained that it was rare for the class to be so skewed gender-wise but he would keep my suggestions in mind for the future. I was satisfied with that.

    I think the key in this case is mutual respect: the offense wasn't intended but he was willing to accept that his actions had an unintended effect on a couple of students. And likewise, I didn't assume it was intended that way, and merely let him know how it came across to me instead of calling for retribution. It's when people are dismissive or refuse to accept that a problem exists - or, conversely, when someone decides that sorry isn't good enough - that it starts to escalate. And to me, that's the real issue - people refusing to empathize with the other side for basically no reason. It takes mental effort, I guess?

    The article uses the term 'litigating' microaggressions a few times and I think that may tap into why this has become such a big deal. It's not news that the US (and the rest of the western world) has developed an insane culture of litigation, where it's not only beneficial but expected that you will take someone for all they're worth if you can make anything resembling a viable case. This culture takes any attempt at codifying social change and supercharges it as soon as it's out of the gate. New laws about sexual harassment in the workplace? MILLION DOLLAR LAWSUITS EVERYWHERE. It's especially inappropriate for tiny, minor things that are literally called 'micro-'. That doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about them or spread awareness or should just get over it. It just means, keep a sense of proportion about it. Which, I would argue, most people do - the cases where people make a big hullabaloo out of individual microaggressions are a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the number of cases that are actually occurring. And friends do share their grievances about those little things - and they do have different feelings about them, often depending on their personality or their upbringing.


    It's kind of funny that this 'asking someone where they're from based on their appearance' has become the standard example because I grew up with heavy antiracist campaigning, and so that just seemed like a natural question to avoid. I even called my dad out on it once - we were in a Vietnamese restaurant and the waitress barely spoke English but he struck up a conversation with her about her background anyway. His response to me was like, 'it's okay to be curious and make conversation' and I thought maybe I was just being overly reclusive and antisocial. But now it turns out I was kinda right? idfk.
    Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless. Like water. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

  7. #7
    singularity precursor Limey's Avatar
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    FTA: "not even the aggrieved student claims this was one incident in a long run of white people using “fútbol” instead of soccer."

    Soccer? what the fuck is this soccer? - the game is football, the one played with the feet and a ball.

    Also, I'd like to defer to Pat Condell, British right wing blowhard on this topic, on one of his flawless victory bits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XPHIfgFwsY

  8. #8
    Amen P-O's Avatar
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    People who don't know you are going to make assumptions about you. These assumptions are going to be related to the way you look (that's all they have to go on).

    It's absurd to ask people to not make assumptions, because assumptions are useful. Most of our living experience requires assumptions. In the case of almost everybody, some people will make assumptions about you that you find offensive. This is part of life. It's annoying. Correct the assumption if you want to, then get over it.
    Violence is never the right answer, unless used against heathens and monsters.

  9. #9
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    I agree with the point that an action just isn't any kind of "aggression" unless the intent behind it is actually aggressive. (Defined as an attempt to cause discomfort or otherwise force an outcome of some sort.) The mere fact that the experience of having something done to you is subjectively unpleasant doesn't make it aggressive. It strikes me as the wrong term for things that are inadvertently offensive.

    It's been a while since I spent any substantial time on a college campus, so I don't quite know what to think of third-party reportage about how the general "culture" or "atmosphere" or what have you in these institutions has supposedly changed over whatever period of time. Because the piece in the OP isn't really describing a particular event or incident, I thus feel like it's not giving me enough information to form an opinion, in the sense that I'm not sure what I would be having an opinion about.

    Actual "microaggressions" certainly exist, but they strike me as a widespread, commonplace part of life in and of themselves. (Person A is upset with Person B, or simply doesn't like Person B, and expresses this sentiment in subtle ways through minor slights designed to cause mild levels of discomfort, embarrassment, or inconvenience.) It's just a part of social behavior--in fact, social etiquette, particularly in a number of context-specific forms, kind of revolves around keeping one's aggressions on the "micro" level. The functional utility of this form of expression sort of consists in the ability to express aggression in forms mild enough that they can be ignored--thus providing a way for the person harboring aggressive sentiments to "vent" while still allowing people who won't necessarily feel positively about one another 100% of the time to get along well enough that social routines aren't disrupted. Pretty much everyone does this, and has it done to them, probably more often than they even realize.

    Of course such things frequently can be noticed and pointed out, but given that they're basically designed to allow the option of ignoring them, in any given instance of noticing one, it bears asking what the utility of pointing it out would be, and in particular what the utility of actively objecting to it (in a manner that may rise to the level of a socially disruptive "macro"-aggression) would be. The answer, of course, would depend on the context.

    Since many forms of aggression ("macro" and "micro" alike) can be seen to serve functional purposes in terms of social behavior dynamics--e.g. they can be used to enforce or contest intra- and/or inter-group hierarchies of power, access to resources, and so forth--it's certainly possible to conceive of useful purposes served by observing and analyzing patterns of "microaggression" if such patterns are evident within a given group of people.

    The OP article seems to be referring to commentary from some quarters on the subject of "microaggressive" behavior that ostensibly reflects efforts to enforce large-scale inter-group hierarchies based on race, gender, and such, particularly in contexts where open, disruptive "macroaggresion" along the same lines wouldn't be tolerated. Observations along those lines aren't necessarily without merit--if/when/where someone could actually show that evident patterns of "microaggression" reflect this kind of intent, that could potentially be an informative means of empirically analyzing the social dynamics that currently exist between, say, men and women, white people and nonwhite people, straight people and gay people, etc., either in a specific context (say, workplaces, or universities) or more generally in society at large.

    But again: Context, and Utility. Let's say, for sake of discussion, that somebody actually does a field study and can document the existence of an observed pattern in which, say, straight people hold doors open for one another but rudely let them close in the faces of gay people. That's a potentially interesting bit of data, I suppose, but as my social-science professors in college were fond of constantly asking--so what? What else is that supposed to tell us?

    Ultimately, "What exactly do you intend to do, or want other people to do, with this information?" is always the million-dollar question.

    Vis-a-vis a topic like ostensible examples of patterned, racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. "microaggressions", I would say that "well, you know, I'm gonna, like, make sure everybody knows this is happening and, like, make sure they know how fucked up it is, man!" is usually not a very good answer. Merely complaining about something relatively trivial--even if it is arguably an example of some kind of injustice--is generally just a waste of one's own time, and trying to make a spectacle out of such complaints purely for their own sake is a waste of other people's time.

    And to be clear, I say this from the perspective of having done a fair amount of general activism-type stuff and being overwhelmingly sympathetic to the goals of feminist/anti-racist/etc. social movements. In strategic terms, you're going to get nothing but wasted time and energy from any mistaken belief that you're going effect any meaningful positive change in society by way of public "shaming" campaigns aimed at little, relatively inconsequential things that random-ass people happen to do on a day-to-day basis. (Generally speaking, you change society by organizing around agendas that demand specific changes in the deliberate, calculated collective actions of formally constituted institutions.) I mean, feel free to run around yelling about how much you hate it when white people ask Asian people what country they're from, if you really want to, but you're not really fighting racism in a meaningful way by doing this.

    That is to say, what's potentially informative from an analytical standpoint is not the same thing as what's worth making a "cause" out of unto itself. Now that said, vague "Kids These Days" op-eds on the subject don't necessarily indicate to me that this is actually what's going on. It could also be the case that the people making such comments are themselves the ones misunderstanding and/or overreacting to something that is merely being pointed out for the sake of contributing to an informative discourse about complex social issues.

    E.g. now I'm thinking about the stupid flap over the comet-probe engineer guy with the goofy shirt that had drawings of women on it. On the one hand, no, it really wouldn't make much sense for anyone to spend their time being actively upset about what the guy chose to wear to work on the particular day when he got interviewed on television--it's not like this in itself constitutes an "issue" of any substantive relevance to anyone. At the same time, though, it doesn't make much more sense for anyone to spend their time being actively upset over someone pointing out what they saw as an example of the social dynamics of gender relations within this guy's field of employment. (I can't say I followed that "controversy" very closely, so honestly I don't really know the particulars of what was said by anyone on any side of it.) The relative lack of women in STEM fields is of course a much-talked-about and seemingly fairly complex social issue, and it's certainly worth asking the question of what male engineers' workplace behavior and attitudes toward women might have to do with the issue. Highlighting (what someone sees as) an illustrative example of such things as a way of bringing the question up for discussion is not the same thing as saying that someone's stupid T-Shirt is to blame for gender inequality or treating the shirt as an unforgivable offense in its own right.

    I realize I now live in a world where conventional print news media feel the need to run stories about what is being posted on fucking Twitter, and that allowing for nuanced discussions of anything is not exactly Twitter's strong suit, but nonetheless:

    My major opinion regarding "the issue of 'microaggressions'" is that it sounds like something that can only be productively discussed from a perspective that aims for understanding of nuances.


    Oh, and fuck Twitter. Seriously.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  10. #10
    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by starla View Post
    So people are whining about people whining?
    It's annoying.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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