Microaggression Session

Janet Napolitano, former Governor of Arizona and secretary of Homeland Security – Forbes 9th most powerful woman in 2012 – is now the president of the University of California system. By the time she left office in Arizona she had used her power of veto 180 times. While with the Department of Homeland Security she became the focus of controversy over a report she authored called, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. In this report, Napolitano lists Obama’s election, future gun control measures, illegal immigration, economic downturn, abortion and disgruntled veterans as potential risk factors regarding radical right wing extremism recruitment. In 2010 she partnered with Wal-Mart by recording a public service announcement to be broadcast on screens in the stores encouraging shoppers to report any and all suspicious activity to employees. When speaking of her partnership she compared her efforts to the fighting communists during the Cold War. She is also responsible for ‘enhanced pat-downs’ at airport security that may include the touching of breasts or genitals.

And now she is here, President of University of California school system, where she comfortably makes more money than the President of the United States. As I write this students of UC Berkeley are occupying Wheeler Hall in protest of the 5% tuition increase that was upheld this past Wednesday. Under this increase, tuition for in-state students will rise from $12,192 to $15,564 by 2019. A few months ago Napolitano was at a UC Regents meeting where a group of students began protesting the tuition increases. She turned to Uc regent chairman Bruce Varner and said, “Let’s go. We don’t have to listen to this crap.”

All of this to give you a grasp on the kind of individual Janet Napolitano is.

There were recently held faculty leadership seminars for the 2014-2015 school year.

The seminar goals, taken from the University of California Office of the President, are as follows:

  1. Help participants gain a better understanding of implicit bias and microaggressions and their impact on departmental/school climate
  2. Increase participants effectiveness at recognizing and interrupting/addressing microaggressions as they occur.
  3. Discuss tools and strategies for developing and inclusive departmental/school climate

Well, that all sounds well and good. But what exactly are these ‘Microaggressions’?

Taken from the same website is this:


Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. The first step in addressing microaggressions is to recognize when a microaggression has occurred and what message it may be sending. The context of the relationship and situation is critical.

Here are some microaggression samples and the message that they imply, per the PDF file on the website:

“Where are you from?

“Where were you born?”

Asking a person to teach you words in their native language

Meaning: You are not a true American and/or

You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country

“Wow! How did you become so good in math?”

Meaning: People of color are generally not as intelligent as whites

“I would’ve never guessed that you were a scientist!”

Meaning: It is unusual for a woman to have strong mathematical skills

“When I look at you, I don’t see color.”

“There is only one race, the human race.”

“America is a melting pot.”

“I don’t believe in race.”

Meaning: Denying the significance of a person of color’s racial/ethnic experience and history and/or denying the individual as a racial/cultural being

“Men and women have equal opportunities for achievement.”

“Gender plays no part in who we hire.”

Meaning: The playing field is even. If women can’t make it, the problem’s with them

“Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.”

Meaning: People of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder

“I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

Meaning: People of color are given unfair benefits because of their race

These sessions were initiated by Ms. Napolitano in an effort not only to ensure that teachers have the wherewithal to avoid offending students and peers but to  also make sure that more diverse faculties are hired. During these seminars, department chairs and deans alike were instructed to be very careful when considering using phrases and language such as those listed above.

In a paper titled ‘Racial microaggressions as a tool for critical race research’, Lindsay Perez Huber and Daniel G. Solarzano tell us that “Racial microaggressions are a form of systemic, everyday racism used to keep those at the racial margins in their place.” They identify this everyday racism as follows: “verbal and non-verbal assaults directed at people of color, often carried out in subtle, automatic or unconscious forms.” They are “layered assaults based on race and its intersections with gender, class, sexuality, language, immigration status, phenotype, accent, or surname” and that “cumulative assaults take a psychological, physiological and academic toll on people of color.”

Don’t we all experience ‘subtle or unconscious assaults’? Does this begin and end with race? I never graduated from college and have worked as a bartender for the past decade. I used to count the number of time in an evening that someone would ask me what my real job is, or what I hope to become when I’m through with school. I can’t possibly just a bartender. At my age?!

Perez Huber and Solarzano continue that these microaggressions are “mediated by institutionalized racism (i.e. structures and processes), and guided by ideologies of white supremacy that justify the superiority of a dominant group (whites) over non-dominant groups (people of color). I will add that in the print copy of this paper, ‘people of color’ is capitalized and ‘whites’ is not.

This paper is drawn primarily from the work of Dr. Chester Pierce, who first introduced the term ‘microaggression’ in 1970. His conceptual development for the term was expressed in 1969 when he wrote, “What is needed, for example, is a sweeping new theoretical concept… the poor black may need care based on other models such as the negotiation of ‘offensive mechanisms. To be black in the United States today means to be socially minimized. For each day blacks are victims of white ‘offensive mechanisms’ which are designed to reduce, dilute, atomize, and encase the hapless into his ‘place’.The incessant lesson the black must hear is that he is insignificant and irrelevant.”

A year later, he transitions this ‘sweeping new theoretical concept’ into the term microaggression by writing “Most offensive actions are not gross or crippling. They are subtle and stunning. The enormity of the complications they cause can be appreciated only when one considers that these subtle blows are are delivered incessantly. Even though any single negotiation of offense can in justice be considered of itself to be relatively innocuous, the cumulative effect on the victim and to the victimizer is of an unimaginable magnitude. Hence, the therapist is obliged to pose the idea that offensive mechanisms are usually a micro-aggression.”

Finally in 2000, while writing an encyclopedia entry on ‘Blacks, Stress In’, Pierce and his colleagues tell us:

“Microaggressions, the major and inescapable expression of racism in the United States, take a cumulative toll on black individuals. Their lingering intractability is a major contributor to the continuing traumatic stress suffered by blacks as individuals and as a group.”

This concept is the framework for what Perez Huber and Solarzano are contributing to California and beyond.

One thought on “Microaggression Session

  1. Microaggression is simply an excuse to accuse white-colored people of being, among other negative attributes, obviously and covertly “insensitive,” “nonaffirming,” “racist,” “xenophobic,” “islamophobic,” “homophobic,” “elitist,” and “judgemental.” White-colored people and conservatives are accused of “clinging to their God and guns” and being “unAmerican.” Wow. White-colored people must have more than 24 hours per day: eight hours to sleep, eight hours for work, eight hours for domestic/family time, and an additional eight hours to develop and practice using all the hatred attributed to every individual of the white-colored race. Why would anybody who is not of the white-colored race want to encounter, live among, attend schools with, have their children play with, do business with the white-colored race?

    Liked by 1 person

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