Erin Call

Erin Call

You Can't Spell Engineering Without Erin

Microaggressions and Intent

I received a surprising note in an email:

I came across your blog and really enjoyed your post about 'microaggressions'. I went to college at UCLA, and met many people who, though their hearts were in the right places, would twist others' words to frame them as microaggressions or otherwise sexist/racist comments when they, by intent, were not.

This person has misconstrued my purpose in writing the previous post! Let me clarify: I do believe such a thing as a microaggression exists, I just wanted to understand more clearly what it was.

This email-sender strikes a note I've heard (and played, in the past) often: the notion that a harmful action with no malicious intent should be held blameless. This is not a position that adults typically take. Although a child might indeed adopt "I didn't mean to" as a first line of defense, most of us grow out of it in time--except when the harm was done to someone else's feelings.

I'm not sure why it's so hard for those of us in privileged positions to accept that hurting someone by accident is still hurting someone, and thus unacceptable. In this particular case we could point a finger at the language: that "aggression" there at the back end of "microaggression" does suggest some intentionality. The problem in general extends beyond this one word, though. Richie Incognito's use of "n----r" is unacceptable for all that it "comes from a place of love," for example.

Our culture has an aphorism for this situation: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." What matters is always the actual result of your actions, not what you hoped would happen.

Posted on 2013-11-23T05:04:00Z
Posted in feminism.
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