Microaggressions Matter

September 28, 2017

My friend and I attended the same camp in the summer. She’s Filipina, her skin is significantly tanner than mine, her black hair is cut into a bob style with bangs, she wears glasses and has a completely different clothing style than mine. I’m Chinese, pale, with long, dark brown hair and no bangs or glasses. On the second day, the professor had already memorized everyone’s names. Correction. She had memorized everyone’s names except ours. She somehow managed to mix us up.

To many, this small mistake might seem trivial. But that’s the point. Her action was a microaggression. Microaggressions aren’t comments that necessarily intend harm, but they do, nevertheless. Mixing up two Asians while getting everyone else’s name correct is a subconscious generalization that all Asians look similar.  People who wonder why the comments can’t just be laughed off or ignored don’t see the bigger picture. It’s not just one comment. It’s the constant barrage that confirms harmful stereotypes.

Comments like “You’re so pretty for a dark-skinned girl,” “Why do you sound so white?” and “You don’t act like a normal black person” are derogatory, uplifting Caucasian people as the quintessential race. It’s easy for these comments to slip through our mouths without realizing the full extent of what they mean, but the impact is deep. Generalizing entire races with stereotypes strips individuals of personality and character.

Through microaggressions, we can see everyone’s internal prejudices unveiled because these comments and actions ultimately idealize one character.  

Racism projects itself through many different forms like microaggressions, and they occur on a daily basis here at Los Altos. It extends even to the classroom, where enforcing stereotypes through microaggressions discourages students to take harder AP classes.

Microaggressions stretch across genders as well, and enforcing these stereotypes on any one group has a negative impact on the recipient’s end. Social psychologist Claude Steele analyzes the effects of these stereotypes through multiple studies in his book “Whistling Vivaldi.” In one of his studies, female math majors performed significantly worse on tests when reminded of the stereotype that women can’t compete against men in math. Microaggressions allow these stereotypes to live on and continue to create negative impacts.

We can recognize differences and similarities without being racist about it. It begins with recognizing the prejudices within ourselves without brushing them off as slights. To ignore microaggressions is to normalize them, and normalizing microaggressions only strengthens racism. These daily comments affect the way we view the world and each other, and they’re overlooked way too often.

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