Microaggressions: When ‘Compliments’ Are Insults

By Julie Gomez

MEXICOImagine you are an Asian American being told your English is really good, even though you were born in the U.S. Or, imagine being told you are pretty smart for a girl because you just won a math Olympiad.

These occurrences are called microaggressions. The term refers to a comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.  Its use has become increasingly common in the last several years, as this Google Trends graphic shows.

Rey Trevino Contreras, a mechanical engineering major at Texas Tech, said he recalls a time when he was judged based on the color of his skin. Contreras, a Mexican-American from Fort Worth, had never heard of the term microaggression before this interview but said he was a victim. Listen to his story below:

Listen to his story below:

“I’m not really mad about it, but it does put it in perspective how society is and how they feel the need to judge and how they’ll react to those judgments,” Contreras said.

Microaggressions are known to be common and usually reflect differences in race, gender and sexual orientation. They sometimes appear as compliments but this “compliment” is based on a clear stereotype about an underrepresented group. In most cases, aggressors do not realize they have just made disturbing comment.

Kayley Taing, a general science studies major at Texas Tech, said people should be concerned about microaggressions because they reflect the tendency to judge others on the basis of appearance.

Google trend of microaggression

Google searches for “microaggression” began to rise in 2011.

“I think it’s something that is part of human nature,” Taing said. “We tend to always judge people by the way they look or dress or the way they act. It’s kind of a norm we have all gotten used to like, ‘Hey, that person dresses all gangster and so they must do drugs.’ Like stereotypes, we say that about them because of the way we see them.”

If we don’t realize we are utilizing microaggression in our lives then how will it be fixed?

Derald Wing Sue, author of “Microaggressions in Everyday Life,” suggests that we make the “invisible, visible” by being open and aware of how letting our personal fears interfere with reality can harm others.

Critics say the term “microaggression” is vague and can commonly be misused.

But many others find the term affects men, women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ community and more. For example, the Houston-based feminist punk rock band Giant Kitty has a song called “The Stupid Stuff,” which refers to the impact of microagressions in everyday life:

Caitlin Graves, a prevention specialist for Risk Intervention and Safety Education (RISE) at Texas Tech, said she encourages students to fill out a form if they experience a microaggression or see a microaggression on campus.

The RISE report requires a “run down of what happened and suggestions on how Tech should handle it,” Graves said.

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