Aaditi Naik, ’18
College of Arts and Science
With debates on freedom of speech throughout the last year, I’ve watched this campus struggle with microagressions again and again. These conversations can’t capture the reality of microaggressions– the subtle, nuanced sexism from a professor or peer.
It’s so easy for people to tell me to let these things go, that if I dwell on the “little things that people say,” I am responsible for my own misery. I wonder if those people think that microaggressions are just a one-time event, something that can be pushed out of sight. I wish they were. Unfortunately, microaggressions are a part of daily life that keep adding up. And yes, maybe the first time you experience a microaggression, you can just forget about it. But what about the 30th time? What about the 50th time? How many times do you have to be demeaned and invalidated before you begin to wonder whether what they’re saying is true? How many times do you have to hear those comments from others before you begin to hear them in your head when you look in the mirror? How many times before you start to feel ashamed of your race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, etc.?
Context is key. It’s never just one comment; it’s the latest comment in a series of microaggressions and institutional discrimination. And a lifetime of this can lead someone to question their own humanity. Words have unimaginable power to alter the way in which someone sees themselves. I don’t know if perpetrators of microaggressions even fully understand the consequences of their words and the power that they are wielding. But ignorance is no excuse for making someone feel less than human, for making someone love themselves less.
So, it comes full circle to the posters on the wall in kindergarten: “Treat others like you would like to be treated.” And that can be difficult if you’ve never even had to worry about being on the receiving end of a microaggression. Even if your race or gender put you in a place of relative privilege, try and imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned and you faced microaggressions based on your identity every day, and then apply that feeling to your interactions with others. You don’t have to agree with or love every person you encounter, but every person does deserve to love themselves.