Wednesday, November 13, 2013

witnessing microaggressions

My sensitivity radar's dialed up to high these days, due to a confluence of personal and professional reasons. Today I'm mulling over two recent conversations and wondering whether I was doing my "part" in recognizing and/or addressing microaggressions.

In conversation #1, I was in an informal small group of people who'd probably call each other friends, where all but one of us shared the same dominant aspect of identity, and the conversation turned to a specific set of experiences that the one of us who didn't had had, that the rest of us had not had (or had dabbled in but could not truly experience in the same way) because of our identities. There were lots of jokes told, several statements of "this is going to sound so wrong but," and lots of laughter. And it struck me that maybe this conversation wasn't so funny to the person who was on the other side. I wasn't fully engaged, since I was trying to send an email, but I did wonder in the moment whether I should say something, and I didn't. Perhaps it was because I was unsure whether this conversation actually was offensive, and second-guessing my gut because I don't share this aspect of marginalized identity and therefore felt like I didn't have authority to decide. Perhaps it was because the person in the group who did claim this identity didn't seem uncomfortable-- although I have often been the one to play off something hurtful like it's no big deal, so that's not a good reason. Perhaps inaction is just easier than action.

In conversation #2, I was telling a story about a marginalized aspect of identity that is sometimes mistakenly attributed to me. I used a term for this identity which one of the listeners (who has the dominant identity in this regard) reacted to with loud outrage-- as in "can you even SAY that? that's a terrible thing to call someone!" I'm under the impression from my reading and conversations that it's a fairly neutral term, and two other listeners-- who use this word to describe themselves-- quickly chimed in to say that yes, it was an acceptable term, and one even offered a range of synonyms with their corresponding appropriateness/inappropriateness. And yet I left feeling like the language police had come knocking and charged me with a crime I didn't commit, and wondered whether there's anything I should have said or done differently, in the moment or afterwards (again, I'd consider all the people in the conversation to be friends).

I'm not writing this so you can give me a yes or no answer, or because I need external approbation or condemnation, but if you have thought through similar situations, I'd love to hear how you processed the complexity-- and if you'd like to question my assumption that being an ally (this video is pretty much my benchmark these days, or at least helps me understand it more concretely, silly as that sounds) means speaking up, please. I think I need some of that.

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean. It's that awful thought as you end an interaction. Should I have said anything? Could I have re-acted differently? Much the same when interacting with students as well as colleagues. However, challenging learnt behaviours and ideas is very difficult. I have recently been looking at this whole issue and came across the Sheffield Hallam University job site and specifically the way in which they construct job descriptions that are explicit about negative behaviours and that they should be challenged. In fact, challenge is required.