Microaggression: desperately seeking discrimination

Viv Regan

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Topics Politics

Have you heard of ‘microaggression’? Apparently it is everywhere. According to Wikipedia, ‘Microaggression is a form of “unintended discrimination”… which, without the conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.’ Wikipedia provides the pronoun ‘he’ as an example of microaggression: this pronoun apparently makes me, a ‘she’, feel excluded and therefore it is a micro act of aggression. For other ludicrous examples of this nonsense, visit the microaggression project’s website. There you will find posts that read like an embarrassing adolescent diary.

But this is no laughing matter. The idea of microaggression is now having a real effect. For instance, there was the fiasco at Harvard earlier this month, when stickers from SodaStream, an Israeli company, were removed from soda machines because they were seen as an act of microaggression against students of Palestinian origin. There was the case of Professor Val Rust at UCLA, who, in 2013, was fired over spurious allegations of microaggression towards his students. As far as I can tell, his only crime was to ask his students to use better grammar. And, judging by their subsequent manifesto and online petition, he was right to do so.

What is most striking about those waging war on microaggression is the extent to which they have taken leave of reality. They see discrimination and oppression everywhere. Of course, there are plenty of things that need to be challenged in society, and spiked does so on a daily basis. But long gone are the days when women were kept at home, when black people weren’t welcome in pubs, and when gay and lesbian couples had to keep their relationships secret. In education, at work and at home, the old discrimination simply doesn’t exist anymore. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped some people desperately looking for discrimination in innocent remarks and actions.

For believers in microaggression, the slightest hint of an insult becomes discriminatory, an example of oppression. Anything can potentially be a microaggression, it seems – a comment, an advert, or just a look. You just have to feel hurt or uncomfortable after reading, hearing or seeing something for the ‘offending behaviour’ to be labelled microaggression. It doesn’t matter about the context; it doesn’t matter what the person actually meant; it doesn’t matter if it was just a bad joke between friends. Thanks to the idea of microaggression, you can elevate the most mundane of exchanges into symbols of deep-rooted oppression.

The idea of microaggression encourages people to see everyday comments or behaviour as abusive or discriminatory. And as such, it encourages a socially corrosive form of victimhood. This is bad. Most of the time, people are civil and decent – if you give them a chance they can even be fun, clever and interesting. Yes, bumping into one another has its risks, but you know what – that’s what makes life worth living.

Viv Regan is managing editor of spiked.

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Topics Politics