Upworthy, shouldn’t racial microaggressions involve…race?

I haven’t visited Upworthy in awhile. I think I had it blocked on the old laptop. Or it just fell out of favor. Either way, I came across this article since someone shared it on FB. For those who don’t feel like reading it: It explains what microaggressions are, and then says the following three things fall into the category of microaggressions:

  1. Rules against hats and hoods
  2. Policing language
  3. Punishing students for sleeping in class

The thing that most immediately sticks out to me is in claiming these are racial microaggressions, race isn’t really mentioned. It mentions the culture of the white middle class, but it doesn’t say anything about what features of race are in play. For 1, I suppose it’s obvious enough. In the US at least, certain cultures affiliated with certain races have a greater affinity for hats and hoods.

The other two are not nearly so obvious. White kids swear a lot. Upworthy says “If the student was raised in an environment where swearing wasn’t viewed as a transgression, it can be difficult for them to find a way to communicate emotionally and intellectually in the classroom.” What racial environment is this? Perhaps I am mistaken here, but to my knowledge, there isn’t a race with a significantly greater tendency to swear and be unaware that swearing is frowned upon by some people.

The third made me pause and wonder if perhaps this article was written by a racist trying to discredit anti-racism. The proposed solution (let tired kids nap) is sane, though, so perhaps not. Again the question is left open: What’s the role of race here? There’s certainly a role class plays. Teachers who have spent their lives in the middle class might not understand not being able to get a night’s sleep. Is there an additional racial component I’m not aware of? (And why didn’t Upworthy bother to mention it?)

The solutions to all three of these are at least alright. People getting upset over hats and “fuck” are just being uselessly rigid in their thinking. There’s no argument for rules against either that don’t come down to the aesthetic preference of a certain group. (Perhaps there is some room for race. Is the intersection of middle/upper class and any non-white race more okay with hats and swearing?) And if a student indeed needs sleep, taking a nap is more useful than fading in and out through class.

This of course isn’t to say there aren’t real racial problems. Some of them do fit in the category of microaggressions. But these aren’t them. On the weighty end, police shootings disproportionately killing black people isn’t reducible to some other, non-racial thing. And the racial thing involved is a problem with the structure of society. (And some bad people.) On the less weighty end, skin products often coming overwhelmingly in shades of white with limited options for darker skin tones is again, not reducible to anything else. It’s just structurally embedded racially preferential behavior. These things, however, appear to reduce to other things. Mostly class and access to resources (which, again, class). One could make a case for 1. For 2 and 3, once you take away the class differences, you end up with saying the racially embodied culture is responsible. For 2, fine, I guess. White people on the whole might be behind there. (I’d be curious to see data.) For 3, if you abstract material resource access and find a problem within the racial domain, then you’re saying it’s a problem with the culture that the kids don’t get enough sleep. That’s exactly the nonsense the racist right peddles.

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One thought on “Upworthy, shouldn’t racial microaggressions involve…race?”

  1. Some Americans are so accustomed to thinking of all injustice in terms of race/gender/sexuality/identity that when an inequality arises which is clearly class based (e.g. having been inadequately socialised due to an unstable home environment such that one engages in unusually large amounts of public swearing/napping) they can’t meaningful comprehend these as “inequalities” without attaching them to one or more of these categories.

    Liked by 1 person

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