COMMENTARY | A new word may be entering the American lexicon. According to TIME’s John McWhorter, a regular opiner on social and racial issues, progressives are now discussing “microaggression” as the most modern iteration of racism. Since 2008, with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, our nation has debated, ad nauseum, whether we have become a truly “post-racial” society. Obviously, racism still exists, though many acknowledge that old-school institutionalized racism has largely eroded and we are now focused on social racism. Traditional social racism has also eroded, with the focus now resting on “unintentional” racism by individuals most would not consider racist.
This unintentional racism, typically exposed through questions treating a person as different from the norm, is microaggression. For example, suggesting surprise that a ___________ individual is attending or participating in ____________ function would be microaggression. McWhorter, fortunately, acknowledges the difficulty of dealing with microaggression and offers some backhanded sympathy to whites who will likely be accused of such racism for both acknowledging, and conversely not acknowledging, racial or ethnic differences.
However, he appears to consider microaggression a valid problem of which the public should be made aware. I disagree. Though I am not a racial, ethnic, religious, or gender minority, I do have vast experience with microaggression. I am a short man. I am also young. Both of these conditions subject you to lots of microaggression in today’s society.
If you’re a short boy, teenager, or man you are subjected to countless microaggressions. The reigning assumption is that any male who is noticeably shorter than average should not pursue “masculine” pursuits in any serious capacity. Sports? Don’t try to rise above a rank amateur. Want to have a “macho” job like soldier, police officer, firefighter? Expect to be scrutinized at every step, regardless of your level of physical fitness. Trying to interact in a macho environment? Sometimes it’s barely better than elementary school bullying.
And the perpetrators? Frankly, I’ve received height-based microaggressions (and macroaggressions) from everyone but Asian-Americans.
If society acknowledges “microaggression” as a valid problem it will have to acknowledge it is not simply a white-on-minority or male-on-female problem. Are progressives ready for that? To truly be aware of microaggressions we cannot stick to the idea that it is simply an extension of institutionalized racism and sexism. Anyone can be a perpetrator and anyone can be a victim. To discuss microaggression but limit it to white-on-minority and male-on-female interactions and ignore discrimination based on height, baldness, or innate physical appearance is very hypocritical and turns the discussion of microaggression into a power-seeking tool to use against white men.
Honestly, since there is little anyone can do about “subtle” discrimination we should focus on just trying to get past it.
Growing up short, it was tough learning to deal with discrimination based on height. However, coming to acknowledge that a certain level of this sort of discrimination will always exist and cannot easily be combated has made me much happier. Occasionally, I still receive a blatant “microaggression,” but now that I let it roll of my back I’m much happier. I used to obsess over how I could overcome the fact that many people will always see me as lesser…but I realize that there is no way.
People will always judge and discriminate. It sucks and it’s wrong but it is the way of the world. Everyone judges and discriminates, be it regarding race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, national origin, culture, age, height, physical appearance, intelligence, etc. So should we all be placed under the microscope regarding our own microaggressions?
Whose microaggressions are worse? Whose microaggressions are accepted or ignored by society? Whose are treated as genuine discrimination?
I am confident that many of those who treat acknowledgement of microaggression as a progressive boon will quickly see it as a bust when their own microaggressions are revealed and criticized. The racial minority who mocks short people. The woman who mocks less intelligent men. The Jew who mocks Christians. When the stereotypical victim becomes the aggressor, how will society deal?
At some point we just need to try to let things not get to us.