Amanda Cook, Leah Bernhardt, Chris Feustel, Safiya Tonico
21 November 2019
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, microaggressions are sets of actions, words, or instances that cause for discrimination of a group of people, whether it be intentional, subtle, or indirect. There will always be microaggressions everywhere, whether a person is in school or work, and most people experience it. Microaggressions are commonly committed throughout society in today’s time; they are often seen being used against minorities and people of different backgrounds and cultures. On our class slides, microaggressions are defined as “The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based on marginalized group membership” ( Dr. Derald Wing Sue, Psychology Today). This includes racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so much more. Microaggressions also lend a hand in creating stress and affect both a person’s mental and physical health when they are being discriminated against. According to the Center for Health Journal, “Research on microaggressions provides strong evidence that they lead to elevated levels of depression and trauma among minorities. In a sample of 405 students at an undergraduate university, depressive symptoms were the link in the relationship between racial microaggressions and thoughts of suicide”. In addition to this, when conducting a study of Native Americans who have been diagnosed with diabetes, they have received “microaggressions from their health care providers. Among those sampled in the study, a correlation was found between microaggressions and self-reported histories of heart attack, depressive symptoms, and prior-year hospitalization.” The two different types of microaggressions are gender microaggressions and racial microaggressions.
According to OED’s Etymology of microaggression, the term came around during the 1970s when the therapist produced the idea that different offensive mechanisms would be considered microaggression rather than different macro-aggression like lynching. Microaggression was discovered by Chester M. Pierce, who is a Harvard Psychiatrist in the 1970s, to describe racial put-downs that degrade physical health over a lifetime. “In 1973, Mary Rowe, an MIT economist, extended microaggression to include analogous aggression against women. Microaggression applies to any casual degradation of marginalized groups, such as disabled people, gender, and sexual minorities” (Sjwiki). Lots of people get targeted from microaggression, and it damages their self-esteem.
Racial Microaggressions are common stereotypes reflected towards other races. An Example of Racial Microaggressions would be when A white man or woman clutches their purse or checks their wallet as a black or Latino man passes them (Psychology today). (Hidden message: You and your group are criminals.). Another example is when Asian Americans, born and raised in the United States, is complimented for speaking “good English.” (Hidden message: You are not a true American. You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.) Lastly, when a black couple is seated at a table in the restaurant next to the kitchen despite there being other empty and more desirable tables located at the front. (Hidden message: You are a second-class citizen and undeserving of first-class treatment.)
Gender Microaggressions are commonly known stereotypes reflected towards women and men. Some examples of Gender microaggression are when an assertive female manager is labeled as a “bitch,” while her male counterpart is described as “a forceful leader” (Psychology Today). (Hidden message: Women should be passive and allow men to be the decision-makers) and a female physician wearing a stethoscope is mistaken as a nurse. (Hidden message: Women should occupy nurturing and not decision-making roles. Women are less capable than men). Another example is whistles or catcalls are heard from men as a woman walks down the street. (Hidden message: Your body/appearance is for the enjoyment of men. You are a sex object.)
Microaggressions can be tied into the book, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. Whether it is racial microaggression or gender microaggression, it leaves a scar on the author.
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, the African American family gets an insurance check for ten thousand dollars. Using the money, the family members want to use the money to accomplish their own dreams. Throughout the play, the characters are navigating both their dreams and what they plan on doing with the money. Throughout the play, there are different microaggressions occur that threaten the family’s ambitions. This is present when Karl Linder who is there realtor, makes it sure that Younger Family stays away from the new house. Linder states, “What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted?” (103) They do not want African Americans near a white neighborhood. This is an example of racial microaggression. The location of the houses is for the high income people, not for African Americans, in this case the Younger Family is low income people. African American people are being charged double the price of the house than white people; it makes it harder for them to purchase a house. According to the article, “Discrimination in Housing Against Nonwhites Persists Quietly, U.S. Study Finds”, the author Shaila Dewan explains how minorities have a harder time buying houses than whites. In a study that had 8,000 testers visited different homes to buy or rent, the results showed that “White testers were more frequently offered lower rents.” (1). Along with whites getting lower rent for houses, they were shown more houses and were quoted for a lower price than blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. This shows that its harder for the Younger family to move up in society and to buy an affordable home for the family to live in.
Later on in the play, after the Younger family decides to move to Clybourne Park, they meet with Linder a white man. Linder makes a statement to the Younger family, saying that the community does not want the Younger family to live in Clybourne Park because they do not share any common interest. Linder says, “And at the moment, the overwhelming majority of our people out there feel that people get along better, take more of a common interest in the life of the community when they share a common background. I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.” (117-118). The Clybourne Park community doesn’t know any information about the Younger family. The community doesn’t know where the Younger family works, what they work on during their free time, or what their goals are. Without this information, the community can’t determine if the Younger Family still has any common interest with them. He says explicitly that it has nothing to do with “race and prejudice” as well as interest. This is a form of microaggression because Lindner is trying to prevent their Younger family from moving into the neighborhood due to the color of their skin. The Younger Family feels threatened by Linder, and Walter kicks him out of his home. Linder constantly says rude sayings that the Younger Family does not want to hear. This does not stop them from buying the house. They buy this house for themselves. Linder even pays the family money not to buy this house. The family does not take the offer to stay strong to show that Black lives matter.
Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior has many examples of microaggressions, just based upon Kingston’s race and gender. The Woman Warrior can be seen as a coming of age story for Kingston because it is a memoir recounting her life and her experiences. When Kingston speaks to one of her elders, they end up saying, “Maggots! Where are my grandsons? I want grandsons! Give me grandsons! Maggots!” (Kingston, 191). Microaggression was derogatory. The maggots represents the granddaughters. This shows gender microaggression because the author’s grandfather only wants grandsons and leaves his granddaughters out. Kingston’s elders are constantly being shown to commit gender microaggressions against her because she is a girl. And by calling Kingston a maggot, she is effectively being put down and devalued as a person, because she is being compared to a bug.
In Citizen, by Claudia Rankine, microaggressions are used to convey the feeling of unsettlement and prove that racism is relevant today. An example of microaggression is shown when Rankine states, “And when the woman with multiple degrees says, I didn’t know black women could get cancer” (Citizen, 45). This shows racial microaggression because it discriminates against the author. This statement shows that even educated women believe in false stereotypes. Another example is when, “Dane Caroline Wozniacki, a former number-one player imitates Serena by stuffing towels in her top and shorts, all in good fun, at an exhibition match” (Citizen, 36). Dane thought it was funny to make fun of how Serena Williams’s body shape looks. This microaggression is making fun of somebody’s body figure.
Along with the microaggressions shown in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, there are different types of microaggressions that exist. These microaggressions include gender and racial microaggressions. Microaggression has existed in society for a long period of time, and for that reason, it has been and continues to be incorporated in literature. By understanding the meaning of microaggression in literature, people can become knowledgeable when reading novels regarding microaggression.
“Discrimination”Wikipedia. 2 December 2019.
Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press. 2017.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Signet/NAL, 1988. Print.
Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior; Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts,
Vintage International Edition, 1989.
Mayo Clinic. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mayoclinic.org
Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Penguin, 2015.
Sjwiki. Mediawiki. Microaggressions. 11 December 2014.
Sue, Derald Wing Ph.D. Microaggressions: More Than Just One Race. Psychology Today ©
2019 Sussex Publishers, LLC.
Torino, Gina. How racism and microaggressions lead to worse health. CENTER FOR HEALTH
JOURNALISM MEMBER POSTS. 10 November 2017.
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