Where Microaggressions Come From

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

If, like some of us of a certain age, you wondered where the exotic term “microaggressions” comes from, the answer is that, like many maladies that bedevil us, it started in the 1970s, and in academia, no less.

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“Despite microaggression’s vogueishness, the term itself was coined in 1970 by Chester M. Pierce, an African-American psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School,” Matt Labash writes in The Weekly Standard. “While Pierce, by some accounts, was a well-liked, genteel scholar, not given to rhetorical excess, he did manage to anticipate our present Cocked Fist Culture when writing, ‘Every child in America entering school at the age of five is mentally ill, because he comes to school with certain allegiances toward our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward a belief in a supernatural Being, toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you teachers to make all of these sick children well by creating the international children of the future.’”

Now, of course, it has become a cottage industry in academe, as Labash shows:

  • “There was Fordham’s microaggression photo project, where students played the race card, being photographed with scrawled placards announcing ‘injustices,’ such as the lass who was asked—brace yourselves—‘What are you?’ Her thin-skinned answer to an innocuous question: ‘HUMAN. Being biracial doesn’t make me a “what.”’ (TheBuzzFeed article first featuring the project now has over 2,879,065 views.) “
  • “While there’re tons of additional microaggression sites, the genre’s gold standard is the Microaggressions Project, started in 2010 by Columbia students to address ‘power, privilege and everyday life.’ As the site’s curators announce, ‘This project is a response to “it’s not a big deal”—“it” is a big deal.’ What’s a big deal? Well, pretty much everything is, no matter how small.” For example, “A female engineer whines that when she was at a loud party and spelled out words with the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, Charlie .  .  .) a guy asked her if her dad was a pilot.”
  • “At Northeastern University, courtesy of the LGBTQA Resource Center, students can now be trained and certified as human ‘safe zones,’ allowing them to receive ‘safe zone stickers.’ (Is it any wonder that helicopter-parented, milk-fed millennials might regard a kindergarten-style sticker as a laudable achievement?)”