The Subtle Micro-Aggression and the Ubiquitous Taking of Offense

Being offended is our generation’s version of being right. Because, obviously, if someone is offending you, he is wrong. In that cultural milieu, the subtle merchants of insult detection have created ever finer instruments to amplify even the smallest traces of political incorrectness. Take the micro-aggression, for instance.

Apparently ceding the point that outright and authentic aggressions are harder and harder to come by in our neutered society, some people have started trying to expunge the micro-aggression from polite society as well. Pulling the micro-aggression card is basically like reading the politically correct Miranda rights to your neighbors: “Anything you say can and will be used against you to make you seem like a racist, sexist, homophobic Neanderthal.”

So what is a micro-aggression? As you might have guessed, it is a rather recently coined term generally referring to “unintentional discrimination.” That’s right. Unintentional. But rather than just bearing with one another politely when we accidentally say or do something rude, we’ve decided that white men (predominantly) need to be socially pulverized into ever finer grades of politically correct dust.

The best way to explain micro-aggressions is to give examples. Here are a few.

In my second sentence, I wrote “if someone is offending you, he is wrong.” That’s a micro-aggression. As is the word “mankind.” It’s sexist to assume that the masculine second person pronoun can operate as an umbrella pronoun for all 3,247 (and growing!) currently documented genders. I could have written “he or she,” but that too would be a micro-aggression against transgendered people. So I could write “he, she, or it.” That too would be a micro-aggression since I’m assuming transgender people have the same status as inanimate objects. So what’s my best bet if I want to avoid a micro-aggression? Not say anything at all. Which I’m assuming is the point.

Here are some other examples of micro-aggressions (almost all of these apply almost exclusively to white people, especially white males):

  • Holding the door for a woman
  • Asking someone where they were born
  • Showing surprise when you find out an Asian person is bad at math
  • Assuming a black person is good at basketball
  • Mentioning someone’s race
  • Mentioning that you don’t see people in terms of race
  • Denying you’re sexist
  • Denying you’re racist
  • Denying you’re homophobic
  • Breathing

That last one was a joke. Which, oddly enough, is probably a micro-aggression now that I think about it. Sigh.