One last additional thought on microaggressions:
I would like to note that defending oneself in the face of microaggressions such as those I described in my previous article is especially difficult if one belongs to a social group other than, for the most part, straight white men. I mention this because the other day, while I was initially inclined to get very angry about the rape comment that was directed at me, the A-number-one immediate response that I have been socialized to have (and did, in fact, experience) was to make sure I remained calm and collected because if I actually allowed myself (rightfully) to get angry, I knew I would be dismissed as an over-reacting, “emotional woman”, pigeon-holed by my identity status, and with the legitimacy of my subsequent arguments diminished, if not disregarded entirely.
Men are always in the dominant position of power in such encounters. Therefore, I knew instinctively that my being listened to depended on my ability to cultivate his willingness to listen, that is to say, in a way, my ability to humor his ego, play by society’s patriarchal rules. History is written by the winners; social interactions are controlled by those occupying positions of social power.
This conclusion can clearly be extrapolated to race, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation – particularly to help de-mystify structural violences. For instance: if I, white, rich, with well-connected and Ivy-League-educated Georgia am caught possessing marijuana – or hell, let’s make it cocaine! – chances are very little, if anything, will happen. I will not go to jail, I will not be prevented from getting future jobs, going to graduate school, getting a bank loan or running for political office. If a working-class person of color gets arrested for possessing marijuana, this is just 100,000% completely NOT the case. Power in our legal system, much like power in our everyday interactions, is asymmetrically distributed depending on the social status of the individuals involved. (Check out this excellent blog post on the war on drugs!) Or as Hannah succinctly put it, “There’s an obvious [preference] in the way we treat white male sentiment even if it’s not based in fact.”
Notably, just as I felt myself wanting to stay calm so as not be dismissed as an “emotional woman,” men and women of color are socially caricatured as well, and differently, from their white counterparts (stereotypes include, but by all means are not limited to, qualities such as being angry, dangerous, hysterical, and aggressive/threatening [esp. sexually]). Thus I would argue that it is often especially difficult for people of color to respond effectively to micro (and macro) aggressions because dominant societal narratives so effectively discredit their voices before they even speak. This means that when interpersonal violence is racialized, it is less-easily resisted, more consistently normalized, and uniquely insidious.
For example, if a black woman (and to a lesser extent, a white woman such as myself) dares to express her 100% appropriate fury in response to a rape joke, let’s say, it is disproportionally interpreted by society as personal exasperation and (black) female hysterics/emotionality, rather than what it is: righteous anger at a systemic and inexcusable offense.
However, if a white man (and to a lesser extent, a black man) speaks up in opposition to a rape joke, his male privilege allows him to be perceived as transcending his identity status; he is treated as though he speaks from a global perspective, his indignation legitimized and validated because it’s not about him; he speaks for society . Because the assumed, default voice of our society is that of the straight white man.
Just as we actively oppose culturally normalized microaggressions, we must likewise challenge the patterns of social stratification that insulate them.