The Minefield of Microaggressions: Enough Already!

By Olivia Pan, Opinions Editor

Recently, Holy Cross dedicated an entire week to the Campaign Against Microaggressions. A microaggression is defined as “the casual degradation of any marginalized group,” and was “coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970.” Surprisingly, this term has been around awhile and did not originate with the so-called coddled millennials, as many assume. However, the debate about microaggressions seems to be especially relevant today, specifically on college campuses. Students at HC received emails all week long providing examples of microaggressions to avoid, which included, “You are so exotic looking,” “Teach me how to say something in your language,” and “Can I touch your hair?” among others. Of these three microaggressions, the only one I find offensive is the touching of another’s hair: keep your hands to yourself and don’t touch anyone, anywhere, ever, unless invited! That is self-imposed common sense.

Anyone who has read my past writing knows that political correctness would drive me to drink, except I don’t drink, so it just drives me crazy. I know for sure that the PC police are out of control these days. That being said, the entire issue of microaggressions strikes me as yet another way of shutting down dialogue between different types of individuals. It seems to be yet another attempt to micro-manage everyone’s communication with one another to avoid ever offending another’s sensibilities.

At the University of North Carolina, a guidebook was created to help employees avoid microaggressions. Complimenting another woman’s shoes was listed as a gender microaggression in this guidebook. The book explained that this type of compliment would imply that you are valuing a woman’s appearance over her intellect. I’m sorry, but when I read this, I thought to myself, “Has the world gone mad?” You honestly mean to tell me that saying, “Oh my gosh, your shoes are so cute!” to a female friend/associate means that I am degrading her intelligence? In my world, not complimenting me on my shoes is the real transgression! You know that I am smart, but you have degraded my taste by not even noticing these fabulous shoes. That could be a new reverse microaggression.

The guidebook also warned against inviting others to play golf, as this would assume “employees have the financial resources/exposure to a fairly expensive and inaccessible sport.” I am getting a headache now just reading some of these. We could expand that golf one infinitely. Don’t invite a new pal to lunch in case they cannot afford it. Don’t even think about asking anyone to a concert/sporting event, as all outings are expensive. In fact, stop being nice and don’t invite anyone anywhere, anymore, you insensitive $#%@!

Are we all so easily offended by everything people say to us? I am not referring to actual incidents of blatant racism/sexism/homophobia, etc. Those are never okay. I am referring to the basic human exchanges about ethnicity, race, sexual preference, etc.

You get to decide for yourself what offends you and what doesn’t. If you are so fragile that a compliment on your shoes sends you over the edge, then you are the one who needs to evaluate yourself, not the supposed microaggressor. If you’re someone who is Asian, are you seriously going to get offended because someone thinks you’re good at math? I mean, how dare they assume you can do calculus?! Damn them to hell! It might not be the most sophisticated comment to make regarding Asians and math, but is it so offensive that we must warn against it?

While some microaggression examples sent to HC students are legitimately offensive, I would say a great deal of them elicited an, “Oh, give me a break!” on my part. If someone came up to me and said, “You’re so exotic looking,” (happens often) I take that as a compliment. I think most people would acknowledge that the term exotic is synonymous with curiosity about mixed ethnicity and is often a compliment about one’s looks being unique, or interesting, and in some cases, beautiful.

We are going down the wrong road here, people, and we are scaring each other into never uttering anything to anyone for fear of being a MICROAGGRESSOR. So, if you see me on campus, please feel free to give me a thumbs up on my shoes, tell me I am exotic looking, and ask me to say something in Mandarin. You will be out of luck with that  last one, as I lost the little Mandarin I had at four years of age. But I would have loved to share it with you, had I retained some.

I spent last Saturday at a Holy Cross Cares Day site in Lynn, MA, painting beds for kids who do not have a bed to sleep in. They often have no heat and not enough food, even as their moms work two jobs.  My mom and I met with and talked to all manner of HC alumni/parents, and the conversations were not politically correct. We talked with the Irish spouse of a HC grad and his son about stereotypes of heavy Irish drinkers, my ethnicity, religion, marriage, racism, and homophobia. No politically correct guard to our exchanges, just interesting, funny exchanges. And then we got back to painting beds for kids who cannot afford the luxury of worrying about inviting someone on silly golf outings and complimenting a girl on her shoes.

Photo Courtesy of LinkedIn

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