Have you heard about “microaggressions” that come in the form of “microassaults” and “microinsults” and “microinvalidations?”  You may not know those totems of pain by their formal names, but I’m certain, at times in your life, you’ve felt their sting and, perhaps, even employed a few of them.

Growing up in the Midwest, you are actually kept in check and corralled by microaggressions — all in the name of Right living and proper behavior.  The assault is indirect, but effective, and the after-lingerings become active pains as they slowly, and loudly, ache upon each other:

“That’s gay.”

“You’re not wearing THAT?”

“That’s one way of doing it.”

“Are your clothes a little tight?”

“Bless your heart.”

“At least you tried.”

Recognize any of those microaggressive put-downs?  They are indirect, passive-aggressive, criticisms that only have one intention: To wound. It’s that sort of nasty, non-transparent, aggression that malforms many young kids into pools of messed up emotions.

Some “microaggressors” are not aware of the effects of their behavior, but many are — because those tactics were effectively used against them in the name of forming morality, creating attention, and mastering discipline.

As the recipient of these microaggressions, you know something is wrong, something is a little off, but it’s only later in life — if you’re lucky enough to escape the origin of your upbringing — that you are able to get some distance and clarity about what formed and condemned you; and you begin to appreciate directness and you start to seek out those around you who are blunt and painfully transparent because then you know, at all times, where you stand and where they stand.  The non-hidden aggression against you becomes a breath of lifesaving air.

There’s a formal study of these microaggressions and that scholarship can only help remove the hidden flaying of those who dare to speak them against others:

The recent surge in popularity for the term can be attributed, in part, to an academic article Derald W. Sue, a psychology professor at Columbia University, published in 2007 in which he broke down microaggressions into microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidations. Dr. Sue, who has literally written the book on the subject, called “Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation,” attributed the increased use of the term to the rapidly changing demographics in which minorities are expected to outnumber whites in the United States by 2042. “As more and more of us are around, we talk to each other and we know we’re not crazy,” Dr. Sue said. Once, he said, minorities kept silent about perceived slights. “I feel like people of color are less inclined to do that now,” he said.

What’s interesting about the formal study is that Race is such a poisonous aspect of these microaggressions that become megawoundings.  Imagine what will happen in the future when the current White Power majority are the minority and today’s minorities are in the power position.  Microaggressions will still be around, but they’ll be flipped:

“You hair isn’t nappier?”

“If only you had a darker tan.”

“Blue eyes are weaker in the sun than brown.”

“You never learned Spanish in school?”

“Oh, you weren’t born in the inner city?”

I don’t know why part of the human condition always requires the attempted mastery of others through aggression — both physical and emotional — but it is a massive problem moving forward as a society where you have the put-upons against the power majority; and we’ll never get along unless we stop insulting each other in order to make ourselves feel better; and that’s going to be a rough road to follow because we enjoy too much walking over those we believe are beneath us.


  1. I recognize a few of those put downs – had never included “bless your heart” in with the others before now – but following through with hindsight and your reasoning I can see why it has been included. I have certainly observed an increase in this form of passive aggressive behavior over the years – I am not sure if that I have become more observant or if it has become more prevalent – or a mixture of both .

    1. “Bless Your Heart” is a Southern oddity that is, self-confessed, a put down by those who use it in the South. It’s a kinder way of saying, “Oh, my, you’re crazy.”

      I do think as we age, we get smarter and wiser and we don’t let social foolery rule us as much anymore.

      1. I don’t know…I’ve got a lovely friend who says it; she is actually spiritual enough to mean it literally…I’d hesitate to label her use of it microaggression.

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