People react in a variety of ways to microaggressions. Many remain relatively silent when and after they occur. This can be for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, confusion, exhaustion, and anger. Justified responses can be ignored, rebuffed, and generally gaslit. Replying or voicing any type of dissent can be difficult, especially when it requires a large amount of emotional effort and can often have little seeming success. Most people have a shifting mental line where they decide to intervene, often distinct from what actually bothers them. A person’s response usually depends on the relative proximity of an issue to their own life and their current emotional state. All of this said, it is not a hard science of any type.
These types of reactions are not distributed evenly across any given identity group. For example, people understand and deal with being misgendered in a multitude of ways, often contextual to the relationship of the misgenderer. Though the reaction in a moment is highly situational, in general, certain people tend to be more openly lenient with mistakes and microaggressions. This can create a dynamic where one person’s perceived comfort boundaries will serve as validation for those consistently committing microaggressions or just generally remaining ignorant.
For example, the transgender women Youtubers Blaire White and Caitlyn Jenner often belittle the importance of getting pronouns right and say that transgender people should be more understanding. Similarly, Milo Yiannopoulos gains popularity after he does not get offended when Steven Crowder asks if he can call him “faggot” in front of a large crowd of people. These people speak to a broader political movement with predominant interests in anti-progress under the veil of “free speech.”
Discourse around free speech predominantly focuses on institutional interventions that mitigate the speech of certain voices. These discussions often fail to grapple with how certain voices are marginalized within white-cis male centric structures. Now, these issues are often institutionally in-adjudicable, it can be deeply unclear when an overstep might cause more backlash than solve harms, and there are certain ethical obligations that make this challenging (particularly for professors).
That said, given the relatively laissez faire politics of many higher academic institutions, their interventions probably would have been justified far before intervention was decided. “Free speech advocates” often point to any type of institutional action remotely mitigating “free speech” as unjust when they basically have little philosophical system backing their claims. They hardly voice any concern about the free speech lost to the constant microaggressions people of color face in PWI’s that relegate their free speech.
This ideology bleeds into a fairly common interpersonal dynamic, that happens to a plethora of extents. It can be easy to implicitly take the comfort of one specific person with an action and apply it to a general group of people. People rarely realize when they do this; it is often subconscious. Doing so often places the relative comfort with microaggressions of one person into a box of “the cool marginalized person.” Yet, just because someone “gives permission,” which: a lack of verbal dissent does not mean consent, does not make an action universally acceptable for people of a group. People get tired, and learning about something different from one’s own experience too often becomes the responsibility of people marginalized in particular ways to explain.
Even though these actions often go unnoticed there are best practices:
1. Avoid assumptions
2. Be conscious of how you take up space in conversation
3. Do not profusely apologize after making an error
4. Take time out of your day to learn about different ontologies
5. Accept that positive (anti-racist, anti-sexist. . . ) and negative ideologies are not static characteristics but actions
All of these actions are preventing harms. Not hurting others happens simultaneously with constructive action.