Racial micro-aggressions are beliefs and commonplace every day behavioral, verbal, or environmental indignities, both unintentional and intentional, communicating derogatory, hostile, and antagonistic racial insults and slurs towards people of color. The agents of micro-aggressions sometimes are not aware that they engage in such behaviors when interacting with racial minorities. Racal micro-aggressions influence how individuals perceive racial or ethnic groups and society’s importance or value on them. Macro-aggressions impact whether people can recognize systemic racism or systems of inequality that remain to persist in the United States (Fleras, 2016). The effect of racial micro-aggression in many cases is deliberated at an interpersonal level. However, this study contends that racial micro-aggressions significantly contribute to maintaining inequality and racial oppression in the United States beyond interpersonal context. Micro-aggression reinforces White superiority in the US by othering racial/ethnic minority groups, treating them as not true citizens, perceiving them as inferior, spreading bias, and creating a system of racial inequalities; hence, the need to talk about it to find its solution.
To deal with micro-aggression and its impact on American society, it is essential to first look at how micro-aggression develops. Micro-aggression steps from unconsciously held racial beliefs and prejudice, some of which have passed from generations, and maybe demonstrated unconsciously or consciously through daily interactions, depicting race relations (Fleras, 2016). Such prejudiced racial relations are the pillars of racial inequalities and oppression. In “The Fire Next Time,” James Baldwin scrutinizes race relations in the United States by cross-examining the different power dynamics between blacks and whites. In his interrogation, Baldwin states that norms concerning authority and the histories that American of every race perpetuates concerning its effect sustain a trend of black oppression in the US. Micro-Aggression particularly emerges from what is taught from younger ages concerning race and racial relations.Parents, including black parents, teach their children a pattern of inequality from a younger generation, setting the stage for the continuing marginalization of African-Americans and other people of color (Baldwin, 2013). In the opening letter, “My Dungeon Shook” and the following narration, “Down At The Cross,” the introduction of young people into the society’s previously recognized racial hostilities and dilemmas demonstrate the significance of being aware and in control of the narratives, individuals tell themselves concerning identities and beliefs (Baldwin, 2013).
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African parents, for instance, teach their children to leave with complexities of subjugation from a young age, according to Baldwin. Behind every African parent stands an intangible and absolute power type of power: the white man. This is another form of micro-aggression. For example, when black parent instructs or scolds, their children often consider the hierarchal structure the parent is functioning within, background conspiracies of a ubiquitous and repressive white authoritative figure. As such, such perceptions influence how children view the world and themselves. Therefore, getting rid of White superiority reinforced by micro-aggression requires a change of mindsets from the black people and other racial minorities concerning what they perceive the whites think them. As suggested by Baldwin in the advice to his young nephew, “you can only be destroyed by believing that you are what the white world calls a nigger.” By believing that they are inferior, the blacks and other racial minorities make it easier for the majority groups to stretch their oppression.
A similar case applies to the whites, based on whom they perceive the whites. Stewart (2021) provides a classic case of how whites perpetuate micro-aggression. In his example, a black is visiting the city but is not certain of the transit location, and his phone has died after several hours of travel. The man sees a white woman just a distance away, preparing to enter her car. The man calls for help, “excuse me, mam,” as he walks towards the woman to ask for direction. The woman quickly struggles to lock the car door, jump into the car, and pull off with the windows closed without waiting to see what the man needs. This is a classic example of micro-aggression. It signals that the white woman feels unsafe even though the man has not given her explicit purpose to feel unsafe (Stewart, 2021). A similar case happens in everyday life when police are dealing with black men. It is easier for the policy to shoot a black man for just trying to dip his hand in the pocket when pulled out of traffic.
The automatic inclination to flee from and fear black men is entrenched in prevalent social stereotypes that black men are dangerous and violent. In the “White Rage,” Carol Anderson talks about how whites frame the Blacks as the primary wrongdoers. The “White Rage” is oppression and aggression against Blacks and other non-white minorities by the dominant white people. As a way of reframing the racial tensions in America, Anderson examines the whites and their rage, revealing the perversity of the prevailing cultural, political and social climate. According to Anderson, white mainstream America is primarily focused on black rage and riots, while white rage remains undisrupted and untouched. Even though white rage may not concern visible violence, she states that it still works through American court systems, legislatures, and various government bureaucracies. White rage can attain its ends more successfully and destructively by operating through the halls of power (Anderson 2016, p 3). The white rage is visible in the policy frameworks and other systems designed to favor the whites against the Blacks and other minorities. It will need the efforts of both the blacks and whites to end some of these prejudices. Just as Baldwin argues, black people reserve the right to be furious with the current injustices, but resolving racial tensions in the United States requires them to transcend the anger and work alongside the whites. Besides, whites must also give room for open discussions concerning justice and injustices by agreeing that justice is inescapably judgmental.
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Michael J. Sandel, in his work, “What’s the right thing to do?” attempts to bring the inherent discussion over justice into the open, trying to persuade the liberals that being judgmental is not in away wrong. Racial injustices like surrogate parenting, affirmative action, same-sex marriage, and abortion must be discussed based on virtue and desert, not just choice and compassion. “Justice is inescapably judgmental,” Sandel writes. Political and social discussions squashed moral engagement lead to impoverished public life and invite intolerance (Sandel 2011). Some of the fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves when talking about injustices in the American society, which are perpetuated by the white rage through federal policies, as pointed earlier by Anderson, include the following: Are justice process-driven and absolute, and that we should adhere to the laws come what may? Or is it outcome-aware and situational, and we can often improvise to account for exceptional circumstances? The whites, blacks, democrats and republicans, conservatives and liberals disagree about these concerns without realizing that it is justice, not impartial politics, which they differ about.
Overall, racial micro-aggressions contribute to maintaining inequality and racial oppression. Micro-aggression reinforces White superiority in the US by othering racial/ethnic minority groups. The problem has been rooted in the belief systems within the white and black communities for ages. For instance, the automatic inclination to fear black men is entrenched in prevalent social stereotypes that black men are dangerous and violent. Similarly, the idea that blacks are inferiors is embedded in the African parents teaching their children to leave with complexities of subjugation from a young age, making them consider themselves inferior to the whites. Addressing these problems requires open and honest discussions about justice, working together between the whites and the minority groups to stop stereotypes.
Anderson, C. (2016). White rage: The unspoken truth of our racial divide. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
Baldwin, J. (2013). The fire next time. Vintage.
Fleras, A. (2016). Theorizing micro-aggressions as racism 3.0: Shifting the discourse. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 48(2), 1-19.
Sandel, M. J. (2011). Justice: What’s the right thing to do? BUL Rev., 91, 1303.
Stewart, H. (2021). The Moral and Political Status of Microaggressions. Western University.