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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Is using the term microaggression a microaggression?

We had a training session this week focusing on cultural competency. It was a great experience and generated a good mix of discussion and reflection, something that the practice of medicine needs dearly. We are so focused on hard metrics (meaning $'s and volumes) that we forget that getting care right means thinking, being humble, and being aware of what is important to people from amny different backgrounds.

At one point during the session, one of the speakers used the term "microagressions" and I cringed. I simply find this word annoying and frankly insulting. I admit this is a visceral and emotional response to the term, being triggered by the insinuation that I am perpetrating aggressions against vulnerable people who I interact with on regular basis.

The definition of microagression is variable. I trolled the internet for definitions. From Wikipedia:
Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.Sue describes microaggressions as generally happening below the level of awareness of well-intentioned members of the dominant culture. According to Sue, microaggressions are different from overt, deliberate acts of bigotry, such as the use of racist epithets, because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are unaware they are causing harm.[13] Microaggressions are known to be subtle insults that direct towards the person or a group of people as a way to "put down".[14]
Also from the Urban Dictionary:
Acts or words that are perceived to be insulting by a person who is looking to be insulted, whether or not that was the intent of the transgressor.
I do not belong to the "have-nots" by any stretch (unless I can claim this as a consequence of not having height).  However, within the University environment in which I function, I am not part of the dominant culture. Although I have a leadership position, I hold a number beliefs and values which may be at odds with the dominant culture, some of which are the subject of thoughtless ridicule.

I know the session leaders who organized and gave the cultural competency session are motivated by the highest ideas and have no desire to insult me personally. However, I am a member at some level of a non-dominant culture within my workplace and profession. The dominant culture uses a term that I find insulting.  By the definition of the term microagression, I cannot be wrong in how I perceive any given act and my perception defines the act. By using the term microagression, they are commiting a microaggression.

We need to come up with a different term.


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