Since I came here, a lot of people have been calling me with the nickname “Greek-Nick”. At the beginning, I found it funny: It rhymed, it sounded good, and I wouldn’t mind at all. But as the days and the weeks passed, and I heard it every single day, it began sounding weird in my ears. Of course, I love my country, I am very proud to come from Greece, and I would not change it for anything in the world. However, there still is a problem with this nickname; it focused on the “Greek”, rather than the “Nick”.
Microaggression is, as Eleni Tsitinidi ’21 accurately described it, these “mosquito bites” one feels after he or she hears the same comment about their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical characteristics, etc. for the millionth time. These comments are not racist comments, with the traditional definition of the term. A racist comment is meant to be racist, or at least, it is widely recognized and treated as such. It is a comment that clearly harms the person it is addressing.
On the other hand, an instance of microaggression does not intend to be harmful. The problem with it is that it is based upon or expresses a larger social message, which is offensive itself. Jared Lindo ’21 provided a truly vivid personal example, having to do with the fact that he is from time to time given the compliment that he is “very articulate”. Of course, this is something nice to say to someone. But is it really a compliment? Maybe it is, if you are saying it to your 11-year-old nephew. However, when the person you are facing is a 20-years-old college student of color, it heavily implies that this characteristic of them was pointed out, because he or she is the exception. And an exception, of course requires a rule.
As I mentioned before, these comments do not mean to be harmful and most of us, if not all of us, have made comments like that at some point not in this semester, but in this week. They are insignificant and easily dismissed on their own. That is why they are considered acceptable from almost everybody that has never been in the other individual’s position. And this is truly the core of the problem they create; the person facing the microaggression has to explain why he or she feels harmed. To them, it is so self-explanatory, that it is truly difficult to put it into words. And the reason they feel hurt is in essentially very simple: they are treated on the base of their identity, their body, that has certain worth-highlighting-differences with this of the person talking to them, and not in the base of their personality, their views as humans, their ψυχή.
When these experiences pile up, they become not only irritating, but harmful. As Ricky Pinnock ’22 said, these comments feel especially wounding when they are coming from friends, from people that a person trusts deeply, and feels themselves closely connected to. People that one feel are with them for who they truly are as a person, and when these words come out of their mouth, one feels the most betrayed .
And what happens when people repeatedly experience instances of microaggression, I asked, and the respond I got from all the speakers was very close to the one that had already started shaping in my mind. Unfortunately, it is like a constant pressure that leads the person to conform, said Idalina Pina ’22. When you are viewed as belonging a “box” by everyone, the thing most likely to happen is that you eventually want to get in this box yourself, as this is the most reasonable, an at the same time the safest thing to do. You alienate yourself from your own personality, your views, your values, and try to adjust your behavior to fit the social role others have imposed on you.
The next question logically is, how do we improve the situation? We correct ignorance, responded Uyen Nguyen ’20. We make people understand how hard it is for someone to come across the same words time and time again, to have to battle the same ideas time and time again. With racism, things are much more straightforward: You shouldn’t say or do something racist, because it is wrong. However, with microaggression the lines are much more vague, and require much more thinking and empathy on our side.
As President Quilen has repeatedly stated, “Simply because something is not wrong, it doesn’t mean it is right.” And when something is simply “not wrong,” thinking about its consequences and preventing ourselves from doing it truly requires maturity.