Your Microaggressions Aren’t Welcome Here

microagressions

Two years ago I proposed, then moderated a panel at WisCon called “Speak To Me In Your Native Language!” And Other Things You Should Never Say To Anyone (clicky for description). The panel title comes directly from something a WisCon-goer said to a friend of mine; and that’s just one of the othering experiences she’s had at the con and why she hasn’t been back in a while. I brought up other examples on the panel having to do with inappropriate touching/moving–of hair, of assistive devices such as wheelchairs–inappropriate interrogation–“You’re not blind, so why do you need a service dog?”–and similar instances of Othering[1]. I created this panel because I wanted to try and figure out how WisCon and the community of people in it should address the problem and maybe even strive toward fixing it.

The panel didn’t go completely to plan because we got derailed several times by one of the panelists[2]. I also don’t remember us coming up with any actionable solutions.

The most obvious one for me is to be that person that calls folks out when I witness such situations and encourage others to do so as well. That’s only workable so long as there are people willing and around. You can’t be everywhere. And while that could eventually grow and grow into awareness for everyone, that could take time. And while that’s happening some people still won’t feel welcome at the con.

What didn’t occur to me is that WisCon the organization could do something to address this behavior[3]. As of this year, we are.

The Safety chairs made it clear that con goers should, if they felt comfortable doing so, report such behavior (labeled microaggressions[4] ) to Safety, and that the on duty staff as well as appropriate department or con chairs would take steps to address the problem with the involved parties. That could mean having a discussion with someone about their inappropriate words/behavior and giving them guidelines around further contact with the person who filed the complaint (such as: do not approach them again), as happened this year. That’s not the only recourse. The idea is to make WisCon a safer space for everyone, not just some certain kinds of people. To make WisCon the type of con where you are not required to let things roll off your back and ignore or laugh off microaggressions and othering so you don’t disrupt everyone else’s good time[5].

I never realized until recently that there could be an official response to these kinds of actions. Or even what that response would look like.

I know that going forward I’m going to have to fight my own impulses to shrug off such behavior and only share and get understanding over how much it sucks from friends and fellow POC. For so long that was the only recourse I had–well, that and talking about it on the Internet. I got used to that being the status quo. I’m grateful others shattered the status quo.

I’m also glad that as a community we’re more and more giving the signal that addressing Othering and Microagressions is a community effort, not just an individual one. At WisCon, Debbie Notkin noted that when she was young, individuals (mostly girls and women) were expected to deal with sexual harassment on their own. That it was your job to remove yourself from that person, your job to find friends who could help you, your job to be on the lookout and not get in their sights again. Now folks take the stance that it’s the responsibility of the community as a whole to deal with harassers. By actively removing harassers from our community spaces, by identifying harassing behavior and making it clear it won’t be tolerated, by ensuring that people can safely report harassers and feel supported when they do.

As a community, can we make it clear that othering is not okay? That microagressions are not appropriate? Can we make it our problem to address as a community and not only a burden individuals have to deal with? Can we agree that allowing this crap to drive people away (and it does) is untenable?

Can we, community?

Footnotes

  1. Othering is viewing or treating a person as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself. Doing so allows you to say or ask completely inappropriate stuff that you would never if you saw that person as fully human as yourself. Here’s a deeper breakdown.[]
  2. He kept saying things like: “You just need to let things like that roll off your back.” and “I don’t see how getting angry does anyone any good.” These can be valid strategies for getting along in the wider world, but were counterproductive in the context of the panel and the con itself.[]
  3. It should have. That it didn’t has a lot to do with the organization’s reluctance to move on certain things in the past.[]
  4. the top image is from this vid on microaggressions.[]
  5. I should also note that the Safety folks at Arisia are doing something similar and have been proactive in addressing this problem at their con.[]

Comments

  1. says

    As a white heterosexual male, I suppose my comments are not welcome here — but I’ll give it a shot anyhow.

    People, quite in general, are often insensitive and prone to faux pas, foot in mouth, backhanded compliments. However, much of human speech and communication is contained in the manner of expression the tone and inflection of voice, the facial expression and body language … even to the extent these attributes of the speech are much more the essence of the content than the words spoken. A great part of socializing lies in being able to perceive these non-verbal aspects of communication, and forgive the clumsy expression in which the intolerant might find offence.

    I believe there is another social sin complementary to “micro-aggression” — the persistent state of finding micro-affronts. I do not enjoy walking on eggshells and find little pleasure in social situations where my every statement must be as carefully crafted as a diplomatic missive between warring nations. Over time, do not be surprised to discover a remarkable and growing homogeneity in those attending your future events. If outreach is a goal, do not be surprised to discover a fast diminishing breadth in your reach.

  2. says

    Jeremy, why would a white, heterosexual man’s comments not be welcome here? For sure, comments that support white supremacy or patriarchy aren’t welcome. Do you plan to support either of those systems and beliefs here? If so, then you’d not be welcome. That would be true for anyone, regardless of race, gender, or other identity.

    As to the behavior you’re describing–people being prone to faux pas, especially if they don’t have the social skills everyone expects them to–what you don’t seem to realize is that this is a different thing than microaggressions. Have you clicked through any of the links that explain this term or the ways in which people are affected by it? I provided them above because they are important context. Microaggressions are not simply people putting their foot in their mouths.

    As to walking on eggshells, let me reassure you: you don’t have to do that as long as you treat other people as if they are human beings, just as you are.

    Would you ever grab an able-bodied person’s shoulders and push them around a room without warning? Only *maybe* if you knew them well enough and knew their personal boundaries. But not beyond that specific circumstance. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to expect you not to grab a person’s wheelchair and move them around without permission.

    Would you say to a person with a speech impediment “Say something else! The way you talk is so funny! hahahahahah”? No, because that’s fucking rude. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to expect you not to ask someone whose native language is not English to say something in their own language just to amuse you. (Mind you, these situations are not directly equivalent.)

    Would you walk up to a man you don’t know or barely know and run your fingers through his hair or rub his bald spot? No, because that would be gross and a violation of his personal space. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect you or anyone not to touch my hair simply because it’s a texture or type you find exotic.

    None of this requires eggshell walking. None of this requires anxiety and overthinking. It does require you to think of people who are not like you as having bodily autonomy, as being people worth respecting, as more than just some exotic Other you can pet.

    The whole “people are just looking to be offended” argument is weak and doesn’t apply here (or anywhere, most of the time). I don’t have to look for microaggressions, they come to me. Literally a month ago I was in a dealer’s room at a convention and a white woman came out of nowhere and put her fingers in my hair. If that had been the only time it had happened in my life, I could have brushed it off as just some woman being rude. But being a black woman, especially one with curly hair, I have this happen to me at least every few months. It’s almost always white people. It’s always Othering. It’s never okay. But, according to you, I’m looking to be offended at these violations of my personal space.

    No. Your argument is nonsense.

    So is your assertion that there will be a “growing homogeneity” over time in spaces that don’t allow microaggressions. I suspect it will be quite the opposite: a shrinking homogeneity. Because more people who have felt uncomfortable in fannish spaces–such as people of color, people from non-white ethnicities, people from different countries and cultures, and more–will take note that the organizers of such spaces won’t tolerate them being treated in this way. Those who want to continue hurting others in these small ways will stay away or they will finally understand the hurt and offense they’re giving and stop doing so. Either way, fewer people will commit microaggressions and more will feel welcome.

    That’s the future I predict. So the question is: are you going to be one of those people who consider it not a problem to be offensive and hurtful and thus eschew any space where that’ not allowed? Or, are you going to be the type of person who is thoughtful, considerate, and willing to learn from past mistakes? Because those are your two choices.

  3. says

    Brava. Not just for the article, but for this first reply. It is definitely not “walking on eggshells” to treat people as though they are equals worthy of consideration.