A few minutes ago I wrote a quick but sort of long reply to a friend on Facebook. He’s a friend I’ve known online for almost twenty years. He’s quite progressive and was always on the same side as me in the heated debates of Usenet in the 90s. He replied to a link I shared in a way that disappointed me, though. I felt like this wasn’t the guy I knew, so I wanted to know more. I told him how I felt about his reply, and it came up that he dislikes the term “microaggressions” because people jump on him for apparently using them. As I said, I just replied to him. I like my reply a lot, so I’m going to share it here:
I think liberals who feel “woke” or that they’ve got some better and deeper understandings about racism, including their own racism are eager to share their new-found knowledge. I think they do this in different ways and for different reasons. (Gonna stop saying “I think” and assume you know it’s there.) In many cases, they’re so riled up with a passion to fix things that they jump on any situation that they now see as problematic and begin accusing.
Accusing, rather than mindfully discussing, does a couple things. It gives the accuser a feeling of power, like, I CAN DO SOMETHING! and it’s energizing. The accuser also gets to distance themselves from their own remaining racism. THAT person is still racist and I see it because I’m SO not racist!
I also think that microaggressions are so pervasive, insidious, and crazy-making (they are a lot like Gas Lighting, if you know that concept?) that accusing someone of using microaggressions probably isn’t all that helpful. They’re really slippery and hard to pin down.
What I’d do, if I saw someone doing something that felt like a microaggression to me (for me, it’s a feeling or intuition, not a factual thing) I might say something to them about how I felt and how I think the feeling came from those words or actions. I’d definitely not accuse or shame someone.
If the conversation went on and the context made it appropriate, I might talk about what “microaggression” means to me.
So, when your fellow liberals jump on you for doing something that seems extreme or ridiculous, I suspect it’s mostly about their own need to feel better and empowered. But, if you are disturbed by their accusations, I also suspect (as I said about your reaction to the linked article) there’s probably some uglier truth for you in the accusations. I don’t think anyone can make you want to dig into it unless you are curious.
And, finally, it’s an unfortunate problem (among many) that people who are trying so hard to make our communities more equitable are actually just kind of fucking things up even more. Giving a bad name to good information.
Today I thought of a very simple example of how my privileged background puts me at an advantage, no matter what my own pitiful bank accounts look like at the moment.
Over the last few months, I’ve been going for walks in shoes that weren’t great for walking. I ended up causing quite a bit of pain in my feet, legs, and even up into my hips and back. (It’s all connected, yes?) Because I have friends and family who are financially more comfortable than I am, I received gifts for my birthday this summer. One of them was a gift card to Lamey Wellehan shoes.
gift card for my birthday to Lamey Wellehan —> I get to buy really good shoes for walking —> able to go for walks without damaging my feet or the rest of my systems —> general physical and emotional health improves —> am not in physical pain and am better able to carry on my day-to-day tasks —> no need for time consuming medical appointments to deal with physical pain problems –> my overall life has less stress because I’ve been walking and because I’m not in pain from that walking.
There are countless threads like this for people who come from privileged backgrounds compared with people who come from real poverty. Many people will say, “well, DUH, this is obvious.” But maybe some of you will read it and have an “ah ha!” moment or two of your own about some of your own threads of privilege and the advantages it affords you. Awareness isn’t creating change in our broken systems, but it’s a step in the right direction. And, in this case, it’s a STEP IN REALLY GOOD SHOES. (Ha.)