On Microaggressions

The concept of microaggressions is something that keeps popping up in and outside of class every once in a while. It was mentioned in the (brilliant) Fox Harrell talk, it was brought up by each of the four game groups, and I think it might be time for some unpopular opinions. First order of consideration: my response. My response is that all this microaggression talk is hilarious.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked “Hey, you’re Serbian, how come you’re not committing genocide?”, I’d be able to pay my Amherst tuition.

If I had a penny for every time I went out in my T-shirt and shorts in December and people told me “Yeah duh Crispin, it’s easy for you, it’s cold all the time where you’re from” I’d be able to fulfill my dream of having a lifetime supply of Hot Pockets.

Pile on the occasional “You’re Serbian? So you speak Russian, right?”, and top it off with the highlight of my college career, when a friend of mine responded to my point about a lower incidence of peanut allergies in the Balkans in comparison to the US with “Well how do you know? You’re from a third world country, people probably just die before you can figure out they’re allergic to peanuts!”, add some of the inevitable “Wow your English is so good” and if you’re a true Amherst liberal you’re probably gasping for air and/or screaming THAT IS SOOOO FUCKED UP OMG

To that, I say: lolno. What’s common to all of these incidents is that I laughed them off or explained the difference between Serbia and Siberia or Serbia and Syria without being the least bit offended. Consequently, my life’s been a lot less complicated, I’ve kept a lot of friends and made some new ones. Am I perpetuating some form of oppression or whatever? Nah, I’m educating instead of being a keyboard warrior.

Before someone calls me out on it, yeah, I’m a cis straight white able-bodied male with all the privileges that that entails. And no, I have no idea what it is like to be a person of color in a very decidedly non-post-racial America, or what it is like to be a woman in a still very patriarchal society, or what it is like to be LGBT, or handicapped, or a member of many other disadvantaged groups. I do know what it’s like to have a bomb fall a couple hundred yards away from you while you’re working in a field as a 5-year-old. I do know what it’s like to move 12 times in 12 years. I do know what it’s like when your parents make 500 billion Yugoslav dinars every month – for reference, those 500 billion could get you a couple of eggs or a candy bar back in ’93. I do know what it’s like to fill in my financial aid application using two keys only for the income column – zero and Tab. I do know what it’s like to have to fight off wannabe bullies every day. And so on and so forth.

Here’s the kicker. It’s nowhere near as fucking bad as you think. Hell, I’d say I have a great life. I have a loving family, some amazing friends, the best girlfriend in the world and I’m going to a lovely school where I’m working towards my dream of being a chemist. And it’s easy and everyone can do it – as long as they’re not wasting energy getting unnecessarily mad.

By definition, microaggressions are unintentional and mostly arise from good-natured ignorance. So the next time someone asks to touch your hair, assumes you’re good at math, hella rich because of your religion, and it makes you uncomfortable, I urge you to tell them that in a friendly way. They’ll appreciate the lesson and you’ll feel good. If they don’t, then they’re assholes and you can get mad.

Other times, microaggressions come from inside you, from your own insecurities. Next time you get upset because someone’s affluent ass assumes you have a car because “lol everyone should” or the next time your teacher ignores your breakthrough because they’re busy talking to an athlete about their last game, remind yourself that you’re not less of a person because they have something you don’t or because they can do something better than you can. And there’s no need to be jellymad. Keep working hard and you’ll get what you want and what you deserve. Depending on your identity and social status, it might take a little more time and work, but it’ll feel all the more rewarding. And then your words will be worth something, and then people will listen when you tell them that “________ people are people too”.

The one way it’ll be too much to handle is if you alienate the people willing to stand behind you and support you by shunning them over a “microaggression”.

/unpopular opinion

Now as for how this ties into game discussion: Every time you get mad at a game for having only two genders, racial stat bonuses, stereotypical Russian bad guys, just remember that social commentary and activism are not the purpose of every game, and that many games with well-developed narratives portray the world as it is, with all of its prevalent prejudices and stereotypes, as ridiculous as they sometimes are, rather than what it should be. And that, I believe, can actually serve as a catalyst for social change, once people notice how wrong some things about the world are. So don’t hate the game, hate the player (or make sure the player understands in what way they’re wrong).

P. S. I’m not Republican. I just *slightly* overvalue having a thick skin.

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