Graphic by Falon Opsahl
While significant progress has been made toward dismantling the detrimental stereotypes pervasive throughout society, colleges are now being forced to confront another type of prejudice that has gone unnoticed — racial microaggression.
Racial microaggression, a coined by Derald Wing Sue, is used to describe the subtle, even unconscious, instances of racism that occur in casual conversation.
Sue defined racial microaggressions as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color.”
Micro-aggression conveys an oppressive and stereotyped message. Making offhanded cultural generalizations, such as “All Asians are good at math,” discounts a person’s individuality. In saying, “He’s really attractive for a Black guy,” you may think you’re paying him a compliment, but you’re also insulting an entire race. Moreover, having friends of different ethnic backgrounds does not make you impervious to racial biases; you can unknowingly communicate a derogatory message and perpetuate disparaging views of minorities.
Many people are unaware that they may have biased attitudes, feelings or thoughts toward a marginalized group. However, by making certain remarks, their perceptions are revealed. The negative implications of racial microaggression are shown to be especially debilitating among college students, according to a Los Angeles Times article published on Nov. 12, 2015 titled “College students confront subtler forms of bias: slights and snubs” by Teresa Watanabe and Jason Song. Minority students regularly face this form of racism in a university setting and it can add stress on top of the pressure to succeed in such an environment, according to a New York Times article published on March 21, 2014 titled “Students See Many Slights as Racial ‘Microaggressions'” by Tanzina Vega.
Most of the time, these minor slights are unintentional; however, they are not inconsequential. It is possible to offend someone without meaning to and, even in the absence of harmful intentions, their feelings are not invalid.
Racism remains a major issue on college campuses; however, it is not always easily identifiable. Racism does not need to be as blatant as a hate crime to be injurious, and that subtlety can make the concept of microaggressions difficult to address. We can’t afford to miss any more opportunities to educate others, and we must realize the necessity of diversity programs for our progress. Promoting diversity is merely a means to an end, and attempting to foster inclusion is not enough to change the climate of our campus; rather, our goal should be to create a climate of inclusion and respect that goes beyond tolerance.
Although ostensibly insignificant, racial microaggression can no longer go unaddressed. As a community, we must be willing to make an effort to manage these incidents on our campus. The solution is not as straightforward as implementing new policies. Colorblindness – the ideology that does not acknowledge race – is not going to improve our interpersonal relationships, according to Monica Williams in an article in Psychology Today titled “Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism.” Instead, Williams claims that it’s counterproductive because it “allows us to deny uncomfortable cultural differences.”
Members of our community can’t hope to dispel ignorance from our communication if we refuse to understand it. Only once microaggressions are recognized as harmful can they be redressed. Students, faculty and staff could all benefit from more instruction on how to be sensitive to diversity. We can help each other take socially responsible action toward eliminating microaggression by urging everyone to become culturally aware and mindful of how the things they say affect people of other races or ethnicities. We can’t control what is posted on social media, but we can make it clear that racism, in any form, has no place on our campus.
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