NOTE: I’ve changed the original title, “The microaggression of calling out microaggression,” to clarify the focus of my concern. It is important to educate people about instances of microaggression “in the moment.” What troubles me are acts of “calling out” I’ve witnessed which return the injury done, rather than inviting collaborative healing.
The microaggression of calling out
At the quarterly business meeting of my Quaker Yearly Meeting (regional association of Quaker Meetings), I kept stumbling over my own reaction to Friends’ use of the term “microaggression.”1
I understand the concept and accept it as useful in turning Inward Light upon my own ill-informed behavior towards others. Advised that a term or pronoun or patronizing act—either of disdain or of special treatment—is experienced as hurtful, I can check myself more kindly, and hence be more kind to others.
I’ve let my discomfort season to the point where I can now see it’s origin, not in the term “microaggression,” but in its use in the public act of “calling out.”
During quarterly meeting business sessions, a speaker was affirming and embracing gender-nonconforming people. The Friend used the expression “he or she.” Immediately, several people shouted out “they.” The speaker came to a halt, confused and seemingly hurt that her effort to embrace was being criticized so abruptly.
Friends, in an earlier age, the slang term “to call out” meant “to challenge to a fight.”
The Quaker way is not public criticism but private eldering. However, in a case like this, where it is important to call immediate pubic attention to an error, there is a Quakerly way to do so.
I raise my hand. The speaker recognizes me. I offer a gentle, explanatory correction. I sit down. The speaker allows some silence, and then proceeds…perhaps expressing thanks for becoming better informed.
A Friendly way to avoid returning one microaggression with another.
- “Microaggressions are 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 solely upon their marginalized group membership.
“In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.”
“Microaggressions: More Than Just Race – Can microaggressions be directed at women or gay people?” by Derald Wing Sue Ph.D., Psychology Today (Nov 17, 2010).