Two articles, one journalistic, one from scientists at Psychology Today, on “Microaggression”, and how subtle practices of social “othering” in everyday interactions are difficult to deal with without getting (or sounding) paranoid. It happens on a daily basis to minorities and people of differences in any culture, to be sure. But in Japan, methinks, it gets dismissed as merely a Japanese cultural practice (“curiosity”, the product of the ubiquitous “shimaguni konjou”, the way many Japanese reconfirm themselves as “different” and “unique” as defined in contrast to the NJ, etc.). It’s not necessarily a willful act of racialization (and I would put it down to more of a “dominant group” issue rather than a “White” issue, so the analysis can cross societies), but is is definitely an aggressive act of “othering” (as in, assuming through the line of questioning, and against all evidence to the contrary that comes out in conversation, that someone is “different”) on the micro level. And when it happens often enough, it become a macro phenomenon. The advantage is, in English, there is a word for it. Not in Japanese, which makes it tougher to deal with.
Psychology Today: The term racial microaggressions, was first coined by psychiatrist Chester Pierce, MD, in the 1970s. But the concept is also rooted in the work of Jack Dovidio, Ph.D. (Yale University) and Samuel Gaertner, Ph.D. (University of Delaware) in their formulation of aversive racism – many well-intentioned Whites consciously believe in and profess equality, but unconsciously act in a racist manner, particularly in ambiguous situations.
Racial microaggressions are the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned White people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated. These messages may be sent verbally (“You speak good English.”), nonverbally (clutching one’s purse more tightly) or environmentally (symbols like the confederate flag or using American Indian mascots). Such communications are usually outside the level of conscious awareness of perpetrators. In the case of the flight attendant, I am sure that she believed she was acting with the best of intentions and probably felt aghast that someone would accuse her of such a horrendous act.
Our research and those of many social psychologists suggest that most people like the flight attendant, harbor unconscious biases and prejudices that leak out in many interpersonal situations and decision points. In other words, the attendant was acting with bias-she just didn’t know it. Getting perpetrators to realize that they are acting in a biased manner is a monumental task because (a) on a conscious level they see themselves as fair minded individuals who would never consciously discriminate, (b) they are genuinely not aware of their biases, and (c) their self image of being “a good moral human being” is assailed if they realize and acknowledge that they possess biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of color.
To better understand the type and range of these incidents, my research team and other researchers are exploring the manifestation, dynamics and impact of microaggressions. We have begun documenting how African Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians and Latina(o) Americans who receive these everyday psychological slings and arrows experience an erosion of their mental health, job performance, classroom learning, the quality of social experience, and ultimately their standard of living…