I was recently asked to be interviewed about microaggression and inclusive language. Before I agreed, I had to look up the term microaggression. According to the Psychology Today blog microaggressions are “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership”.
The first things that sprang to mind were the obvious; that’s so gay, this is lame or the ‘r’ word. The more I started to think about it, the more I thought of the subtle ways in which my position as an attendant for people with multiple impairments acts as conduit of microaggressions. Often people will come up to me when I am working for someone, ignore them completely and tell me I “have a place in heaven,’ that I ‘must be a saint’ or that ‘isn’t it nice that I take them out.’ Or I am often asked if the person I am with is my son or brother. The implications of this language, the microaggressions, are that those with disabilities are not worth even talking to, that only family members would want to spend time with them, that disabled people require non disabled people to ‘take them out’ and that people who work for disabled people must be exceptional people.
These comments would not have been happened (I am sure they would have still be unconscious thoughts) if not for my position as non disabled attendant. I have talked to the men I work for to understand how they would like to me to respond as they have communication impairments. However, there never really seems to be a good way to deal with these comments. At least, not one that makes the situation worse.
I also wonder if using the term microaggression, is in itself a microaggression. Isn’t it jargon? Shouldn’t we try to avoid jargon? Don’t we want to write in plain language? If we want to talk about inclusive language shouldn’t we then talk in a plain language format?
Sadly, my initial delight that someone not only read my blog but wanted to interview me about language was crushed by a lack of fact checking and misquotations. But at least it got me thinking about microaggressions. I wonder if perhaps we aren’t creating a new and varied jargon to further obscure concepts like ableism, racism, sexism, ageism, etc.
Discrimination is one thing, but microaggression leaves too much up for interpretation.