I have a bone to pick with my student union. Coming up soon is an event called Diversity Week, where the focus will be on microaggressions and how they disturb the peace on our campus.
Two things on that. One, is units. “Micro,” in the world of science, generally means a unit times 10^-6. For example, a micrometer is 1 000 000 times smaller than a meter; a microcoulomb: 1 000 000 times smaller than a Coulomb. For reference, the width of a human hair is 17 micrometers.
So, if we are talking about a grave societal ill that seems to be measured within the range of single human hairs…then I’m guessing maybe – just MAYBE – we don’t have so much of a problem here? In fact, perhaps I would go as far as to say that if these “microaggressions” are our biggest problem, problems that you would probably have to look at them through a microscope to deal with them, then aren’t we pretty well-off?
The second thing about this – I think it’s really destructive that we have to judge peoples’ actions so closely, looking for any sign of human hairs of faults on their back, to find offense in them. People are flawed enough as it is; if we have to judge our fellow colleagues on cases of misspeaking and harmless jokes without ill intent, then we’re just going to be walking on eggshells all the time, constantly worrying about crossing a line that keeps changing all the time.
Of course I know that words can be powerful and that what we say can tell people a lot about our character and our beliefs. But can’t we just handle these minor offensive situations like adults, with forgiveness, and attempt to reason with our supposed aggressor and show them the error of their ways? Or, maybe, if the aggression is in fact at the micro level, then can’t we just let it slide? What’s a few human hairs on your shoulder, after all? Just brush them off. I can think of many instances in daily life where we do this – when someone cuts us off in traffic or bumps into us in a busy hallway. Sure, these things are rude in the moment, but if we always let small things like this completely ruin our day, then we will forever live in a state of discontent.
The really sad thing about this is the fact that my campus is already so beautifully diverse. Asian people, white people, black people, Middle Eastern people, Latinas/Latinos (I mention these in no particular order, lest you think I am subconsciously microaggressing) – and I see so many lovely friendships between these people all the time. Heck, I have many friends from all of these groups as a result of my experience at university already. Whenever I hear something mildly racist, it’s largely in sarcastic jokes between friends. I hear black people joking about their Asian friends, Middle Eastern people joking about their white friends, etc. etc. But at the end of the day, they’re still friends. They don’t genuinely think less of each other because of their race.
So why complicate a good thing? Why make people see offense when there are so many more examples of kindness and friendship?