Microaggressions

Sunday, August 15, 2021

What Is It

Microaggressions are small comments or questions that may be insulting or hurtful to another person because of their race, gender, sexuality, and so on. Some people consider microaggressions to be a phantom symptom of political correctness and a further sign that society has become “soft,” while others see them as a problematic way of normalizing bigotry. So how do microagressions compare to other types of moral harms? Do they add up to structural oppression, and if so, how are we to assign individual culpability? Josh and Ray engage calmly with Lauren Freeman from the University of Louisville, co-editor of Microaggressions and Philosophy.

Comments (22)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, June 24, 2021 -- 8:28 AM

'a problematic way of

'a problematic way of normalizing bigotry' What is this really saying? I mean, is there any way of normalizing bigotry? Moreover, who would be seeking to normalize unlawful discrimination and prejudice in the first place? If these are the sorts of epiphanies and insights emerging on college campuses today, I feel apprehension for the student body. What kind of pseudo-intellectual mish-mash is being proffered here? And microaggressions. Really? The word itself trivializes the sorts of attitudes/behaviors it attempts to describe. I wonder what Chomsky would think. And what would HE say? Or, for that matter, what about Pinker and his thoughts on diminishing violence? I am sorry.
But this seems absurd.

Dwells's picture

Dwells

Friday, June 25, 2021 -- 6:41 AM

You probably handled the

You probably handled the slights better than I did by turning a blind eye. But believe me
when I say that the phenomenon exists and it is used against all sorts of out groups.
The worst case for me was work related. I have seen first hand how black people are treated via
the slights. It is extraordinarily cruel. In the multicultural society of a large university there are all
the verbal mistreatments imaginable! Some of the worst I saw was the behavior of the fraternities.
But every other intergroup situation played out in the classes and in the student union.
One had to have a powerful shell not to be affected by the implicit cruelty.

Daniel's picture

Daniel

Sunday, June 27, 2021 -- 8:51 AM

The importance of this topic

The importance of this topic to me seems difficult to underestimate, and the fine distinctions which can be made in the course of its analysis require some careful attention. The term "microaggression" is set against its obvious counterpart "macroaggression", the overt aggression we're more familiar with, hence dropping the "macro". The former however is similar in one salient respect to Leibniz's "petite perceptions", perceptions which are within the range of our awareness without being explicitly focused on or thought about, but nevertheless without which there could be no full or explicit consciousness. By this criterion, microaggressions are characteristically unintentional byproduct effects of institutional injustices or systems of oppression which can endure even after the latter have ostensibly disappeared. That can include many different varieties. To take an example from symbolism, if a young man drives around with a Confederate flag on the back of his truck because his father or the people he grew up with did so as well, without ever realizing what it stood for or its history, this would be a case of simple uninformedness or ignorance, but would still fulfill the criterion since the action is perceived as aggressive. There may be cases however where the intent is non-aggressive or benevolent while at the same time deploying a deeply aggressive institutional form or background. In an example taken from aesthetics, a white host of a television program featuring contestants competing for a date with each other asks why it didn't work out for a couple who both happened to be of other than white racial identity, saying to the male, as grounds of his puzzlement: "you're a good looking guy".

The statement is meant as a compliment. But the structure of the claim is microaggressive on account of replacing an aesthetic claim of subjective response with a cognitive claim of object-predication. By way of explanation take the statement "that poodle is a beautiful dog". We know what a poodle is because the concept "dog" is already there. The general concept determines the particular which is given by experience: this animal is a dog. But when one says "that dog is beautiful", we start with the particular given by experience and look for the general concept which is not yet had: why is it beautiful? Perhaps because of its silky fur and noble stance; etc. The point here is that the host's claim is an aesthetic one based on what his specific experiences have convinced him counts as "good looking", and what doesn't, which could be very different from the contestant's experiences, which may find very different general concepts from the same particular. Stating it in the grammatical form of a cognitive claim is a way of claiming also that his own experience, and in this case that of those who share a similar ideal of what's "good looking," are more objectively based and therefore important than those whose experiences might produce a different system of general concepts which are not had before the particular given by experience provokes a search for them. One could then correctly call it a slight with clearly understood contents, but not intended as a slight; and therefore microaggressive.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, June 28, 2021 -- 5:02 AM

I guess I am not following

I guess I am not following this very well. As I read the above intro piece, my conclusion was that microagression equals intended slight. Sure seemed to be the proffered message. I will, however, reserve further comment until there are more comments on the topic. One question though: how does microagression compare with passive aggression? They seem like different sides of one coin, with microagression being the more furtive of the two. Nuance is so confusing at times.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, July 2, 2021 -- 2:11 PM

This is premature and

This is premature and misguided. I see no philosophical reason to term macroaggression as irrelevant. Your link leads to a wiki link referencing Chester Pierce's original essay where he used this very term in a dimensional sense.

I can see a functional argument, but to dismiss the dimensional interpretation, which is the one used most often by critics of microaggression, is not helpful and too quick.

I understand the difference between dimensional, functional, and part/whole concepts. I don't see the imperative to dispense with the dimensional connotations of the term micro/macro here before this show or in philosophical discussions.

If you want to make a functional argument – do it or add a reference that does. Regina Rini seems to do this well enough in her book The Ethics of Microaggression. Still, I don't entirely follow what you or Rini say to dismiss micro/macro dimensional analysis.

To me, Pierce, and perhaps Daniel above, the dimensional interpretation is obvious and helpful. The functional analysis involves an entire construct of oppression that is also helpful but divisive.

Dwells – what is your goal here? Let's come to terms. Perhaps it would be best to hold off discussion until after this show has run its course. There are shockwaves of critical race theory here that are playing out in real-time. I'm reading Freeman and Schoer's study; much of this is discussed there.

Daniel's picture

Daniel

Friday, July 2, 2021 -- 6:52 PM

Since the question has been

Since the question has been opened, what is your goal here, interlocutor Smith? I've not detected an argument, other than that you support the distinction between micro- and macro- when it comes to aggression. My interpretation of the position of interlocutor Dwells is not that the distinction is rejected, but merely that the analysis of microaggressive phenomena involves a set of problems not shared by clear cases of overt aggression. As far as what is misguided and not helpful, I think it's worth asking: not helpful for what?

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, July 2, 2021 -- 8:41 PM

Daniel,

Daniel,

Fair question. I would answer it with a quote from a philosopher, who answered it better than I ever could. His goal is my goal. Then apply that to this discussion. Finally, I will talk about my goal "here," as Dwells does. It might be helpful, and you asked.

"The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." - Wilfrid Sellars.

Here Dwells is limiting the discussion to a functional interpretation of microaggressions. She (he/they?) is doing this by linking to an essay that does the exact opposite. That is the extent to which I would call her post misguided. Not that her argument is not without merit. It is.

First off – she has to make that argument or point to one who does. Even if she did, from there, irrelevance is a more demanding standard to prove. But I think it is possible. When done, it won't be found on Wikipedia because it is a thoroughly politicized argument that is fiercely guarded by Wiki standards of neutrality.

But there is a dimensional sense to micro/macro in the broadest sense of the microaggression research project (MRP.) Her post is premature in this sense. I'm interested in how the MRP hangs together in the broadest possible sense. The limitation of the discussion is, in this sense, not helpful.

But it is not only my goal that is unanswered – but the ones PT has posed to its listeners above. Answering these questions is the goal of this show and, as such, also mine.

"So what exactly are microaggressions, and how do they compare to other types of moral harms?"

"Do microaggressions add up to structural oppression, and if so, how are we to assign individual culpability?"

I'm still reading the essays Freeman chose and other works. I don't have clear answers. However, I am not a fan of what I have read so far.

I'm just seeking clarity on Dwells' point, and since it limits discussing the questions above, what is her goal.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, June 28, 2021 -- 12:23 PM

Considered sending ideas to

Considered sending ideas to your off-blog comments page. But, decided to wait until after the August show. More refinement may be needed.

Dwells's picture

Dwells

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 -- 6:33 AM

Terminology

Terminology: Microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental slights, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microaggression

Microaggressions differ from what Pierce referred to as “macroaggressions”, which are more extreme forms of racism (such as lynchings or beatings) due to their ambiguity, size and commonality. Pierce C (1970). "Offensive mechanisms". In Barbour F (ed.). In the Black Seventies. Boston, MA: Porter Sargent. pp. 265–282.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microaggression#cite_note-13

The term macroaggression has no relevance here. I think the term microaggression is for the most part so unconscious and automatic that we don't realize that we are doing it. It also seems to be dependent upon the attitude of the person(s) being addressed and whether they have grown thick skins. My brother and I are both hillbillies. I am thin skinned and "sensitive". He is thick skinned and oblivious to these slights.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 -- 7:35 AM

Thanks for the clarification.

Thanks for the clarification. I may yet offer my other remarks on this topic. Have not decided if they would add anything. The pictorial part of the blog post seems to center on matters of race, color and/or national origin. These are, of course, legal concerns under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Accordingly, they deal with unlawful discrimination...bigotry, prejudice and the like. And so, unless one is bound up in terms and jargon, microagression is, as you have illustrated, irrelevant. It is clearly not needed to re-label matters covered under applicable law.

Dwells's picture

Dwells

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 -- 10:07 AM

The word I said was

The word I said was irrelevant was ( MACRO-aggression ).

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, July 2, 2021 -- 10:02 AM

Dwells,

Dwells,

Thanks for these links and opines.

The term macroaggression is relevant in an open discussion of microaggression. I'm not sure why you say it is irrelevant.

Chester Pierce used the term when he first coined the phrase in the day, as referenced in the wiki links you are pointing toward and Pierce's essay. Daniel is correct to point out its obvious existence above, as was the world when Derek Chauvin as a police officer, murdered George Floyd. I would suggest aggression has a spectrum here that spans culture, history, and behavior.

Wikipedia is milquetoast juxtaposed to philosophical distinctions and culture wars. The differences between macro and micro and even plain aggression are very much at issue "here," at least.

Thanks for pointing to the fundamental definitions. I look forward to a good discussion and show. We are all hillbillies here through thick and thin whatever your definition of that term might be.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 -- 2:45 PM

So here is the substance of

So here is the substance of what I wrote a week ago:
During a thirty year stint in state government. I was often a target. Sometimes a perpetrator. Whether it rose to a level of aggression is arguable. Whether nit picking or pet peeving rise to the same level as microagression ( in your terms) is also debatable. One thing seems undeniable: it was always intentional; often malicious; occasionally playful. OK. That was three things. Quit being 'micro'.
If we are considering race, color, sex, or national, or some other lawfully proctected class,, it is difficult to excuse or explain away egregious treatment, however it might be characterized. The stereotypical descendent, displaying and defending the confederate flag because others in the family do, or have done so, is continuing archaic symbolism. Supporting a lost cause. This is more akin to passive aggression, until someone starts shooting. If I understand it correctly, microagression, although embarrassing, is relatively tame. This is not to say that I do understand it correctly.
New descriptions and terms for all manner of conditions are perennial. They emerge, then evaporate when we have tried harder and thought better. Microaggression will run a course and cease to be of interest. Something else will replace it, briefly,sounding profound and intellectually smug, until someone says: wait a minute. Just how problematic is this?

Daniel's picture

Daniel

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 -- 8:57 PM

But microaggression has

But microaggression has become such a fertile topic, in my view, because many different parts and aspects of similar phenomena have at length been given a name, and therefore have become able to be investigated under a single heading. Your distinction between passive aggression and microaggression to my mind offers a keen insight into why an additional name has become appropriate. Passive aggression is a state of the subject. It's at first hidden from other people and tends to at some point become explosive when it can no longer be suppressed. Microaggression on the contrary constitutes a state of the object, or better, a state of the contents of perceptions by or within the object, the target of microaggressions, so that sooner or later it can no longer be tolerated and expressions of anger can occur in the contexts of the targets themselves, viewed incredulously by those not affected, as though to say, "what's the big deal?" In terms of philosophy, one could say that the concept of microaggression is Ontic Historicist in character, representing an effort to dispel the Cartesian- Subjectivist baggage under which the passive-aggressive state of mind is understood, in an attempt to bring sociological conditions of coexistence in the post-colonial era under sufficient conceptual management.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, July 1, 2021 -- 6:37 AM

I think I understand your

I think I understand your views on these distinct states. It all makes sense. What I am unconvinced of returns to Dwells' remarks concerning relevance. If microaggression is, and remains, a fertile subject, time will tell that tale. If something, related or no, supplants the fertility, then thinkers will move on. An example which suggests itself is the perennially hot topic of dualism. It has been around in some incarnation or other since long before Rene DesCartes. Lately, panpsychism has re-emerged. And stirred both controversy and interest. I am not moved by the current clan of panpsychists, particularly those who assert. consciousness to be property of everything.. I find the notion implausible. Atomic structure,for me, is only lifeforce in living things, not inanimate matter. My favorite analogy asks whether these is conscious intensionality (this may be the wrong meaning, if so, my bad) within a gold nugget. I just don't think so. OK. I am off-subject here. Take it as you wish. My layman's point is there are two domains at loggerheads here: animate vs inanimate. Believe panpsychism or don't believe it. Philosophy asks questions; takes positions and then changes its' mind. As our friend Ken Wilber wrote: and just so.
Warm Regards,
Neuman.

Dwells's picture

Dwells

Sunday, July 4, 2021 -- 2:42 PM

Has anyone found a working

Has anyone found a working definition of these terms microaggression and macroaggression? What domain(s) do the terms come from? Philosophical? Psychological? Sociological?

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, July 6, 2021 -- 10:07 AM

I did finish Freeman and

I did finish Freeman and Schroer's book last night (Freeman, Lauren, and Jeanine Weekes Schroer. Microaggressions and Philosophy. Routledge, 2020.) If taken at face value, the project is to place the psychological term in the philosophical domain.

Several different philosophers, psychologists, and pundits have taken whacks at definitions. Most seem to start with Peirce's statement and Derald Wing Sue's definition/refinements. There doesn't seem to be agreement on terms outside of these proposals. The essays and approaches of the philosophers vary, as do the empirical consequences.

Most of the critical theory is outside the book but listed there. As mentioned above, Critical Race Theory, Political Correctness, and Call Out or Cancel Culture seem to run side by side in cultural discussions. The book sets a philosophical foundation and reacts to the counterarguments against microaggressions as a meaningful sociological term. The latter being a reverse cancellation cultural argument - if that makes sense.

This book might be the best place to start here, but there is bias all around, which is a sure sign of fire under the hood.

Daniel's picture

Daniel

Monday, July 12, 2021 -- 7:26 PM

Because macroaggression =

Because macroaggression = aggression, and microaggression refers to phenomena not typically perceived as aggressive (except by its targets, often due to unexamined institutional histories or traditional relationships), I would put its study as in largest part belonging to the domain of sociological objects.

Daniel's picture

Daniel

Thursday, July 15, 2021 -- 7:38 PM

Sociological in addition

Sociological in addition because a mediate relation between individuals and groups constitutes a central component of all cases. This mediate relation can work in both directions, however. In the case of the white M.C complimenting a non-white participant on his physical appearance discussed above, the direction is from the unreflective group to the isolated individual, where any expression of displeasure thereupon would be met with consternation and confusion as to why this person is rejecting identification with the larger or more dominant group. There may be cases however where the direction runs from the individual to the group, whose shock at the refusal to participate in the group-identity results in a de-facto exclusion from the group. To my mind, the "high five" strikes me as of this latter variety. As a compulsion to group behavior, its denial entails some kind of exclusion, even if that behavior is entirely arbitrary and impractical. A folk musician imploring members of his audience to clap their hands along with the song being performed, and slighting those who refuse, might be another example.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, July 17, 2021 -- 4:00 AM

Does anyone sense a

Does anyone sense a circularity herewith? Or a regressive backtracking? The term, microaggression cancels itself from any sort of relevance., to wit, if it is neither illegal, immoral or fattening, it is not worth consideration. Let's talk about something more important.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, July 20, 2021 -- 7:37 AM

Circularity to colonialism

Circularity to colonialism perhaps going back to the Ionian coast? Backtracking to oppression. I see a cancelation here. Microagressions are illegal in some contexts, immoral in most, and fattening in all applications. There are plenty of other posts on the board. You are engaged in almost all of those.

My favorite essay was on ableism. I am still trying to get it. Suppose any of the articles are circular, then that one is. There's too much going on to comment pre-show on this and other topics. I somewhat miss the early days of lockdown where I had more time to think about these shows and posts.