UVA student: ‘American’ identity ‘the most blatant microaggression’

During a "Managing Microaggressions" event last Monday at the University of Virginia, students spoke out against microaggressions like identifying as “American” and criticizing someone’s taste in food.

The event, which was hosted by the Queer Student Union, was described as an opportunity for students to tell “stories of microaggressions they have experienced in their lives and [frame] them inside of the larger forces of their respective worlds, such as identity, culture, and others.”

A Hispanic student from the School of Education began by declaring that “I refuse to take up [the] identity” of “American” because “this country has decided to take it upon itself to identify as an entire hemisphere,” which he called “the most blatant microaggression in the context of this country.”

Instead of American, the student said he identifies as Latinx, queer, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and from Southern California. Later, recounting the time he told his mother he was queer, he noted her response of “I love you. Do you need to speak to a counselor?” “as if though my sexuality’s…some mental health problem that I had to deal with.”

The Hispanic student also took offense when people criticized his food taste, saying “don’t insult something that I like just because you don’t….My taste, whether it’s my orientation or my food are mine….You’re insulting the taste of the people that I grew up with…an entire subculture…an entire people that you don’t even know exist.”

“Please don’t tell me you wear those together” was another microaggression, reportedly suffered by female Hispanic student Hannah Melissa Borja, when a friend saw Borja in cow skin boots and a poncho her family had passed down to her.

During her speech, Borja called out her “closest friend,” Logan, who was in the audience and allegedly guilty of perpetrating the latest microaggression against her, recalling that before she went to an interview with a Latino law firm employee, Logan told her to “remember to use your best Spanish and don’t speak with an accent.” When Borja said “I can’t help my accent,” Logan responded “you know what I meant; don’t eat your ‘r’s or your ‘s’es.”

Speaking to the event’s attendees, Borja said “I do know what he meant…don’t talk like Puerto Rican, don’t be the stereotypical, Puerto Rican girl who has no business being in the professional world. Don’t be you, go home.”

A female Muslim student in a hijab later claimed she had been told “no one’s going to be physically attracted to you; isn’t that the point of the headscarf?” and “how do we know you’re a girl? You’re probably bald under there.”

She also complained about two competing stereotypes of Muslims who wear the hijab, one in which they are “asexual, unfeminine, and prudish…the sexually uninterested veiled woman” and another “orientalist one” that has led to “privileged white men [who] think it’s okay to drunkenly grab me as I walk down the Corner and ask me what I’m hiding.”

Another speaker, Francesca Callicotte, said that if people don’t call out microaggressions, “the unintentional will become intentional and impulsive ignorance will become premeditated aggression.”

Some students had complaints that arguably went beyond “microaggressions.” A black woman described a relationship she had with a white man in which “the barrage of microaggressions began” when he called her “brown sugar” and referred to her as a “shiny token.” The relationship culminated in the man sometimes saying the n-word, “the white race is just superior, but you’re the exception,” and telling her he wanted an all-white America.

During the dialogue period, students were instructed to introduce themselves and their pronouns, “use ‘I’ statements,” and “follow proper turn-taking procedure (wait for 2 people to talk in between the times you speak and speak again).”

At Campus Reform’s table, one student noted that “a lot of older white men” speak to her in ways she deems “disrespectful.” Another said “I’m not gonna lie; when I see somebody who looks like a stereotypical frat brother, I get scared to share certain things.” A student also mentioned that she “loved” when the speakers talked about “correcting people” while still maintaining friendships.

When one student expressed discomfort with “the r-word,” or “retarded,” Campus Reform asked if she would be fine with it being used scientifically to refer to a slower growth process, to which the student said context mattered.

Another student almost referred to her older brother as “severely autistic” instead of “autistic,” but quickly corrected herself, saying “I’m still unlearning some things, too.” Regarding the r-word, she said “I just hate that word in general” and alluded to the US government’s replacement of the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability.”

Campus Reform also asked students how they felt about racist and sexist jokes and games like Cards Against Humanity. Some students thought jokes were alright if they “punched up” vs. “punched down.” 

When Campus Reform brought up the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the question of what is and is not acceptable as satire, some students agreed with the magazine’s right to freedom of expression, but one said “if people are being degraded by these stereotypes and they’re uncomfortable with it, I think that’s enough reason to not use it and I’m just very uncomfortable with the tendency to immediately just start picking apart Islam.”

None of the students, however, could answer precisely who should be allowed to determine which jokes are off limits.

Reflecting on the growing hostility to PC culture, one student said “the person who’s usually calling people crybabies is usually coming from a place of privilege where they’ve never been attacked on anything and then as soon as they are, it’s ‘oh God, everyone’s being so horrible.’”

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