I recently wrote on this issue too, though from the other side. I’m all for more listening, but the microaggression concept appears to only foster more shouting. In a nutshell, my problem with this concept is that it is defined so broadly. By including “unintentional” words that the speaker isn’t even aware a “marginalized or minority group” finds offensive, it assigns blame even when no one was trying to offend or hurt, thus terminating any chance to educate. Worse, it attaches the label “aggression” to these unintentional words — which until recently was reserved for physical confrontations of some sort. In other words, it marginalizes victims of real aggression in the name of advancing greater respect. Putting the prefix “micro” in front of it doesn’t really solve that problem. Therefore, the very concept of “microaggression” is, by its own definition, a microaggression against victims of real acts of hostile (intentional) aggression. We don’t even use the word “aggression” to describe people who accidentally step on someone’s toe or bump into another person in the hallway, but here an accidental slip of the tongue qualifies.

Regardless, accusing others of a microaggression(s) when intent cannot clearly be established doesn’t foster dialogue. It shuts it down virtually every time, and I have become increasingly convinced that’s how it is being used intentionally. One side is claiming it has been victimized while the other is instantly put on the defensive, effectively shutting the door on understanding by people not really that interested in finding common ground. Listening requires both sides to lower their guard and allow a certain amount of vulnerability. It requires a willingness on the part of the parties to give the other some benefit of the doubt, at least until intent can be reasonably determined. The concept of microaggression invites people to immediately leap to the accusatory stage, thus halting virtually any possibility of communication, let alone reconciliation, between the parties involved.

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US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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