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Opinion: Microaggressions have become normalized — but that doesn’t make them OK

Thousands march in the All Black Lives Matter solidarity protest on Hollywood Boulevard in June. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

We have all heard variations of microaggressions — racist, homophobic or offensive comments made casually, such as “You’re too pretty to be gay,” or “You can’t wear that, you’re too fat,” or “all [insert racial group here] people look the same.”  

Whether it’s offensive comments made at the school lunch table, a family dinner or online, microaggressions have become that of a second nature to most. I know I have said microaggressions on accident in the past, I didn’t know they were offensive, because for my whole life people around me have said them — teachers, family and even on TV and in movies these toxic assumptions are seen as comedy and commonplace.  

But that doesn’t make them OK.

A microaggression is a term used for commonplace phrases that intentionally and unintentionally communicate unkind, negative and prejudiced ideas toward marginalized groups. 

Many people don’t believe in microaggressions simply because they don’t experience them. A person atop the throne of privilege has never faced the backhanded compliment or blatant insult that a microaggression can be.

The same people who don’t believe in microaggressions are the people who say the coronavirus isn’t real because they don’t know someone who has it, say that sexism isn’t real because women and men are paid the same at their company and say that they don’t understand the need to fight for LGBTQ rights.

Just because something doesn’t exist in your life, and just because you haven’t faced it, does not make it not real.  

The core issue with microaggressions is the fact that they perpetuate stereotypes. These harmful stereotypes include lesbians being masculine, or that coming off gay is a bad thing and that a gay person has to have a certain look. Or that someone’s size determines what they can and cannot wear, and that clothing has to be “flattering.”

The idea of flattering perpetuates the concept that one’s size should prohibit them from wearing the clothing they love because the clothing that “flatters their body” is different, the idea of flattering is found in clothing ads and style blogs.

Pulling your eyes tight to “lift them” mimic east Asian eyes, a trait that many eastern Asians struggle their whole lives to accept, is now a trend. Calling people autistic when they do something “strange” perpetuates the idea that autism is an insult. Saying all people in one racial group look the same is simply just wrong and racist, and implies that ethnicities have to have a certain look.

All of the examples above say the same thing to marginalized groups that your size, race, identity, gender, sexuality, culture, etc. is bad, and something that you should be ashamed of. 

The complex issue of microaggressions can be fixed so easily by thinking before you speak. We all have some knowledge about the stereotypes many groups face if you’re about to say something that you think might offend someone, even in the slightest, think about how necessary the joke or comment is and think about who you are hurting by saying it.

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