Week 5 (10/3): Micro Aggressions

Of all of the ways that oppression can be expressed and felt, I feel that micro aggressions have the deepest roots in today’s modern society. In order to justify why I feel this way, I am going to break my blog post down into sequential ideas.  It is my hope that these ideas will build on one another to support my belief that micro aggressions run deep into the life fabric of our society today.  First, I will address what oppression stems from based on the readings we have done in class and outside research.  Second, I will compare overt racism and other blatant acts that act to openly reinforce oppression with micro aggressions.  Lastly, I will explore how micro aggressions have invaded our daily routines and existence.  I aim to create a conversation around how harmful micro aggressions, however unintentional and subliminal,  are in justifying and instilling oppression. In my thoughts, I also hope to answer the suggested questions to consider, posted by Professor Spencer.

Oppression is a result of the stereotypes we create based on race, gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, etc.  What is so concerning about oppression is that it is often an arbitrary abuse of power.  It is arbitrary because the dominant culture “calls the shots” and decides what is to be labeled and who is to be rewarded with/without power.  A group that is pushed down and interpreted as “other,” becomes automatically oppressed by the dominant culture.   We have learned and discussed in class that, as humans, we tend to interpret the world by creating labels (for lack of a better word: stereotypes) because society deems it fit that we find meaning in our existences.  Oppression is something that from birth is an unfair and unjust practice that acts to steal all means of privilege from the minority groups in society.

Growing up with a Pakistani-Muslim, immigrant father, I was sensitive to the comments that my classmates would make around terrorism.  When I was born, I was unaware that there was blatant oppression placed on immigrants.  Perhaps there were micro aggressions experienced in the looks people gave my dad, the jobs he was able to initially get, and the friends he did/did not have.  As I got older, I was more aware of the blatant oppressive labels on immigrants.  I heard terms such as “un-American” and “speak English.”  This oppression goes a long way to creating a class of society that feels subjected to certain jobs, communities and neighborhoods based on the reinforcement they receive from society.

When 9/11 happened, I was in the fifth grade. Suddenly, the oppression was blatant and the fear people around me felt turned into racism.  A classmate on the playground once chased me with an imaginary bazooka, spit frothing out of the sides of his mouth, while he pretended to aim open fire.  He yelled after me, “I’m going to kill you and your dad because you’re terrorists.”  Around the same time, a student on the school bus told me that he “hated” my dad (despite never having met him) because his Indian uncle was killed by people like my father.  I was experiencing a clear message from the kids around me that I was not as good as them and that my family and I were outsiders.  This kept me from sharing so freely who I was while growing up.  As I look back now, I wish I would have created allies and spoke in a constructive manner to change the ideas of my classmates.  Instead, I closed-up and started to assimilate into the American ideals more and more….Oppression 1, Noreen 0.

I just explored and shared personal memories around the blatant oppression that can be expressed and felt in society.  I think blatant oppression tends to rise in times of fear and confusion.  I think it also elevates when the dominant group feels attacked or weakened by the minority.   On the other hand, micro aggressions are less likely to be recognized, or even initially felt when they are expressed.  I was interested in learning more about the research around this idea, so I went online to UMich Library.  I looked up “micro aggressions” and found an interesting peer-review journal looking at the juxtaposition of blatant vs. subtle racism.  Fleras (2016) says that there are two main camps of racism, which he labels as Racism 1.0 and 2.0.  Racism 1.0 is “blunt, direct, and deliberate.”  Racism 2.0, on the other hand, is expressed “subliminally through the rationalized expression of dormant prejudices.”  Racism 2.0 is what I would consider micro aggressions.

As I look over the assigned readings and commit to my own research, it becomes clear that micro aggressions are: “Neutral ways through ‘inaction, silence, neglect and indifference’ through [which] an oppressor’s lens is established” (Fleras 2016). Furthermore, micro aggressions are often delineated via code that people use to deflect from their oppressive ideologies, or polite racism. What I also find is that micro aggressions can act as a personal shield to prevent the feeling of guilt or discomfort when engaging in a more blatant form of racism, etc.  It can act, in a way, to “disguise it from themselves (subliminal racism), especially in those ambiguous contexts where racism-speak remains largely inaudible to those ‘outside the loop’ but resonates with meaning for those ‘in the know’ (‘dog-whistle racism’)” (Fleras 2016).

It is important to note that micro aggressions are often deflections from committing to the more uncomfortable, blatant forms of racism.  They act to reinforce the current oppressions in more subtle, deeply rooted ways that prevent the minority from rising up.  In our daily lives, micro aggressions are ever-present.   Especially in this current political climate, as minority groups are speaking out more blatantly to address the oppressions, micro aggressions are becoming more obvious.

One personal example I want to share about micro aggressions regards my profession of choice in contrast to my partner.  My partner is in law school and already has received a promising job offer upon graduation that will compensate him comfortably with six figures.  All of his friends like to joke that “I am lucky he has a good job” and that “He will be our bread-winner” when we both graduate.  Until recent weeks, I would laugh long these micro aggressions aimed at both my sex and my ability and brush them off as partially true and un-offensive.  Now, I recognize this as a micro aggression.  It is an attempt to deflect this discomfort others feel in directly commenting on my career choice as being more of a “helping profession” and less of a “ambitious career choice.”  It labels my decision as more feminine and dependent on him.  When I chose not to engage in this rhetoric in the past, I admit that I only reinforced these prejudices.

I have certainly worked with people in the past who engage in micro aggressive tactics in their daily lives.  As a teacher who worked in under-resourced communities in Miami and San Francisco, I would often come across tired, frustrated educators who, in time of duress, would speak about their minority students in ways that acted to reinforce the oppressions that society had placed on them.  I would often ignore them and disengage from the conversations these teachers would have.  In our meetings we would all claim to want to the students and eliminate their oppressions by educating and supporting them.  I think this made some of colleagues blind, neutral and/or impartial because when the hard times hit, some of them would regress into their micro aggressive mentality and create an “other” category that their students fell into.

I think it becomes easy to fall prey to being in conversations where micro aggressions have deep roots.  It becomes even harder, then, to address them in the moment.  By nature,  micro aggressions are deflections from expressing the deeper truths and oppressions they reinforce.  By addressing them head on and in the moment, takes away the power that the micro aggression has.  It is our duty, then, as social workers to educate others about the harmful effects of micro aggressions and to speak out against them.  The first practice, however, is to ensure that we are not abusing these same privileges.


Fleras, A. (2016). Theorizing micro-aggressions as racism 3.0: Shifting the discourse. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 48(2), 1-19. Retrieved from http://proxy.lib.umich.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/docview/1815477545?accountid=14667




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