Ask SGO: Can white people experience microaggressions?

Home Resources Ask SGO: Can white people experience microaggressions?

Felicia: One question that’s come up recently for us is, are microaggressions specific to race or issues around race. And this one’s a bit of a complicated answer. So we thought …

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One question that’s come up recently for us is, are microaggressions specific to race or issues around race. And this one’s a bit of a complicated answer. So we thought we would take a few minutes, or a few seconds, depending on how long this ends up being, to address that particular question, because it’s a really valid one. So microaggressions in general, the term is used to describe different indignities that are intentional or unintentional, as far as they relate to marginalized groups. The term originally came about in the seventies and was created by a professor out of Harvard, Dr. Chester M. Pierce. And when he originally came up with this terminology, he was using it specifically to talk about race and race related interactions that he was witnessing primarily between Black people and non-Black people in the U.S. and America.

Now that was the original, the origin story, if you will, of the term and how we were thinking about it. And what we’ve seen is that since the 1970s, especially here in the U.S., the term has sort of evolved, and has grown to expand, to include other groups over time. So the definition that a lot of people use, including ourselves, builds on Dr. Pierce’s original work in this area, but we also incorporate some of the work from a professor out of Columbia, Dr. Derald Wing Sue. He also brought into the definition, a lot of other marginalized groups. So we talk about microaggressions against people who are of different religions or different gender identities, so on and so forth. So when we do talk about microaggressions, that sort of core to it is going to be race. And that is where we still do see a lot of the sort of examples or how microaggressions tend to play out. But as far as I work, I don’t limit it solely to race, but I keep that in the back of my mind when I’m thinking and talking about them.

I think to add to Felicia’s piece, it’s important to note the relationship or connection that microaggressions have to marginalized identities. When we’re talking about microaggressions, we’re talking about folks that are being oppressed based on their social identities. So if we’re talking about women, women are experiencing sexism and misogyny because of how we are marginalized. And I say, we, I am a woman, how we are marginalized around gender. For queer and trans, gender non-conforming folks, we have homophobia and transphobia. And I also say we, because I identify as queer. We are experiencing this based on that marginalized or oppressed identity.

It’s important. I’m talking about gender, I’m talking about sexuality and also gender identity here. I’d also say the same thing when we’re talking about folks that have a disability, and an expansive understanding of disability, thinking learning disabilities and physical disabilities, but not just physical disabilities. We often think about that, but when we think mental health and learning ability as well. Folks that are carrying this marginalized identity, there’s a correlation between how they are oppressed when it comes to ableism, right? That’s what they’re experiencing. And so I think it’s important to note that connection when we think microaggressions.

What that means is that, I know that a follow-up to the question was around microaggressions and also can white folks be microaggressed? Well, white women can absolutely experience sexism and misogyny. White queer folks can absolutely experience homophobia or transphobia. White folks that have disabilities can absolutely experience ableism. And their whiteness alone is not oppressed within a system of how we think about marginalization and we think of racism.

Racism as a structure is oppressing folks that are not mono-racially white. So folks that are Black, Brown, folks of color, mixed race folks. That’s what’s happening. Within whiteness you cannot be oppressed. And because we’re not monolithic again, of course, white folks that are also carrying marginalized identities can be impacted by xenophobia, potentially. Can be impacted, potentially by sexism, and misogyny, and all of those isms that we’ve been talking about. So I think it’s important to note that yes, you can be microaggressed, but when we’re talking about microaggression, we’re really talking about oppression and it’s important to know where we carry privileges and how nuanced that oppression may or may not look.

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