The Line Between Microaggression and Aggression

Now, you might be wondering, what makes something a microaggression rather than just a plain old aggression? Dr. Kevin Nadal, in his book That's So Gay, outlines some examples of microaggressions.

Some things that are microaggressions:

  • A white person asking a person of color "Where are you from?" and insisting on "No, where are you really from?" after the answer is something along the lines of "Here."
  • A white person clutching their purse when they see a black person, because they assume they are a potential criminal.
  • White people telling people of color that they "don't see race" (Click here for an article on what's wrong with this)
  • A man catcalling a woman.
  • A cisgender person referring to a trans woman as "sir", "male", or "he"
  • A straight person asking a gay couple "which one is the man in the relationship"
  • An able-bodied tooltip available person speaking to an adult in a wheelchair as though they were a child.
  • A neurotypical tooltip available person assuming a neuroatypical tooltip available person is lying about being assaulted because they are "crazy."

This list is of course far far from comprehensive. Some of these seem pretty bad, and like they might just be regular aggresions. A part of what makes them microaggressions is that they put the victims in a place where they feel pressured to stay silent and ignore what just happened. You can see in the following examples how that is not an option with the bigger aggressions.

Some things that are not microaggressions, but regular aggressions

These are major. They are not paper cuts. They are gashes left by an axe. They are, sometimes literally, bullet wounds. They don't need to build up to reach the levels of trauma that microaggressions leave behind.

Microaggressions aren't no big deal though. Microaggressions serve as a constant reminder that you, and people like you, could be brutalized, or fired, and whether or not it's true, they also make you feel that you can't do anything about it. They whittle you down one cut at a time, until life itself is just harder for you than it is for everyone else popover available

Kevin Nadal. (2013). That’s So Gay: Microaggressions & The LGBT Community. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Derald Wing Sue. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.