Mizzou: complimenting disabled people is a microaggression

The University of Missouri Diversity Office offers a primer on microaggressions that spotlights such seemingly innocuous phrases as telling a disabled person that “you people are so inspiring.”

The handout, “Can We Talk Microaggressions in Every Day [sic] Life,” highlights the messages behind common microaggressions and is available on the Mizzou Diversity website, a part of the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative.

The handout was adapted from the books Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestations, Dynamics, and Impact and Microaggressions In Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, both by Dr. Derald Wing Sue.

Sue is a professor of counseling psychology at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and has written numerous publications about multicultural counseling, ethnic diversity, minority issues, racism and antiracism, and psychology.

He is best known for his book Counseling the Ethnically Diverse: Theory and Practice, which discusses social justice and racial identity in counseling, especially for minorities. Sue also served on President Bill Clinton’s President Advisory Board on Race in 1996.

Mizzou’s handout presents several common microaggression examples in chart form, listing the theme, the microaggression, and then the interpreted message. Each microaggression example is given in the form of a question or statement that students are encouraged to avoid.

The handout asserts that “colorblind” statements made by whites, such as “when I look at you, I don’t see color,” deny persons of color their racial and ethnic experience. Colorblind statements such as that, according to the handout, show that white people refuse to acknowledge race and merely want people of color to assimilate into the dominant white culture.

Other racial microaggressions on the list include assumptions about intelligence, criminality, denial of personal racism, and tacitly according second-class citizen status to minorities. Each microaggression is paired with example statements or questions.

Microaggressions toward disabled people are also covered in the handout, which states that patronization, a form of microaggression, occurs when a person with a disability “is praised for almost anything,” such as being told, “you people are so inspiring.”

Those with disabilities, according to the handout, are victims of microaggression when non-disabled people try to help them, indicating that the disabled cannot do things on their own.

Mizzou also covers gender-specific microaggressions in everyday situations using the same rubric, claiming that assumptions of gender roles, such as expecting women to be more polite or well-behaved than men, imply that women are meant to be domesticated.

Other gender-specific microaggressions on Mizzou’s list include “a male coworker hanging ‘pin-up pictures’ of women on his wall in the workplace,” giving preferential treatment to men, and assuming that women are not physically capable of competing with men in sports.

The university also offers a companion document on their website that is designed to facilitate group dialogue among those affected by microaggressions. The document was used during Mizzou’s 2012 Diversity Summit and features several of Dr. Derald Wing Sue’s books as suggested readings.

According to Columbia University’s website, Sue’s books, including the one from which Mizzou’s handout was adapted, are a result of five years of research at Teachers College’s Microaggression Laboratory involving interviews with students, staff, and faculty.

A similar handout to the one on Mizzou’s website can also be found on the University of California at Santa Cruz website.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @jelawrence72