Microagression. That’s a big word for the things we say or do, intended or unintended, that demonstrate some level of hostility toward a person because of the “group” they belong to. We can find plenty of examples in the air around us if we listen. We might even hear them coming out of our own mouths or being expressed in our own body language if we are attentive. My own little exploration of them in myself sees these “mini hostilities” as a kind of intersection in my inner life–where the road of attitudes that I was taught to repress crosses the road of my current experiences. What I have long repressed and had no venue for exploring comes to some surfaces of my walking around psyche especially when I am tired and stressed by any variety of things. Then, allow a person from a group that belongs to the “other group” come into my field of experience, and that microagression shows up.
It shows up as a thought. It shows up as an attitude. It shows up as a glare. It shows up as irritability that I can pass off as “just being tired.” If such a microagression should come out of my mouth, I have learned quickly to try and take it back by calling it a joke or by not saying what I really meant to say. Those bells cannot, however, be unrung, and no person who is the object of a microagression is fooled by those attempts.
I try to work on that inner repression by creating some inner conversation with myself. I look any and all groups who suffer hostility in our culture, whether I can identify any one of them as an object of microagression in me or not, and I begin to ask “is it possible that . . . ” questions. When I do, that seems to diffuse the repression and release some new way of seeing “the other group.” In fact, asking myself these questions seems to make otherness less of, and sometimes, no longer an issue. My issue. Because microagressions spring out of our own issues–never the person or group toward whom they are aimed.
Is it possible that this person of mixed racial background has an interesting family history like I do?
Is it possible that people speaking a language that I cannot even identify have some fascinating, joyful, sorrow-filled, amazing stories to tell?
Is it possible that a woman has a voice, a perspective, an expertise about ANYTHING that I could learn from?
Is it possible that someone who must fast on certain days or say certain prayers or dress in a particular religious garb has a mystical experience that I could appreciate?
Is it possible that the person taking political views that I KNOW are wrong could help me hold my own views better if I simply listened and showed genuine interest in listening?
These are just a few. The way I am seeing microagressions is that they become emotional walls that keep me at a distance. What I really want is to be able to extend my hand and my heart toward every human being I encounter. I cannot do that with these walls in place. So, I need to practice bringing down the walls. I’m trying that with questions.
Is it possible?