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2013 Fall Issue 5 (October 25, 2013)

An Open Letter from the Moderators of Carleton Microaggressions

October 25, 2013

There has been a lot of talk about Carleton Microaggressions on campus both this term and last term, and not much has been said publicly by the moderators of the site. This term in particular there have been several articles where microaggressions was brought up, mostly negatively. We -- four of the many moderators of carlmicroaggressions.tumblr.com -- wanted to take this opportunity to explain the purpose of Carleton Microaggressions and talk about some of the criticisms of the site in order to foster a more open dialogue on campus about privilege, oppression, power, resistance, understanding, and the role of the blog within these conversations.

What is Carleton Microaggressions, anyways? If you have no idea what we’re talking about, it is an online Tumblr blog where members of the Carleton community can submit instances of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, and other forms of marginalization that they have experienced here. We then post these submissions anonymously (if the person wishes) on the blog where it can be viewed by the general public.

What is a microaggression? Microaggressions are subtle interactions that occur every day which reinforce positions of privilege. They are little reminders that a person is somehow different. They can be interpreted as derogatory, demeaning, or discriminatory, but more often than not, they are communicated unconsciously.

First of all, the primary purpose of the Microaggressions blog is to allow people with marginalized identities to vent. This may seem petty at times, but the truth of the matter is getting to voice little things you interact with every day can be very helpful in getting through. When things happen to us in real time, we don’t always feel comfortable voicing our problems. Microaggressions hopes to provide a space for people to have a voice and express those experiences of daily forms of oppression. It aims to be a place to make other Carls aware of the various -isms still present on campus and how they present themselves. As good of a place as Carleton is, it isn’t perfect, and we should all work as hard as we can to make it better.

We’ve heard a lot of criticism directed towards Microaggressions around campus, and we’d like to address some of the most common concerns we’ve heard here.

1. “Why are you making such a big deal out of such small, minor, isolated incidents?”

We know that sometimes, a story about a single time someone experienced something can seem like it’s not a big deal. But the thing about microaggressions is that they build up over the course of a lifetime. If you’re queer and you hear “gay” used as an insult all the time, the first time it might sting, but you might be able to laugh it off, or walk away, or get support from a friend. The thousandth time, it probably hurts a lot more. And you are probably really, really sick of it. By posting many submissions from members of the Carleton community in one place on our blog, we hope to convey this experience of feeling constantly hurt over and over again.

2. “Why are people ‘passive-aggressively’ posting about this online? Why don’t they say things in real life where they’re not anonymous?”

“Passive-aggressive” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in criticisms of microaggressions; submissions are deemed to be mere complaints, and those who share their experiences are just assumed to be avoiding “real life” confrontations. We want to remind people that the microaggressions blog exists as a place for people to document their experiences with racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, etc. This is one of the only places to talk openly about privilege and oppression on the Carleton campus, when other spaces may not feel safe for people to share hurtful things that have happened to them. However, because of that, it easily becomes a forum for everything (discussion, education, venting, debating, etc.), even though it is not meant to be. This would not be such a problem if we had other spaces to discuss these issues and people’s personal experiences with them on campus. Ideally, we would have multiple forums for these types of discussion to foster education and better understanding. At Carleton Microaggressions, we’re working on expanding the site to encompass more of the things we’ve been asked to, but given the limitations of Tumblr as a site and the structures we’re aware of and feel that we can properly manage as students here ourselves, we’re not there yet. This is still a work in progress.

3. “I feel targeted/attacked.”

We have had some submissions in which a person involved was identifiable. Posting these without removing the identifying content was definitely a mistake on our part, and we are sorry to anyone who was harmed by this; running this blog has been a learning process for all involved. We now very consciously edit or omit submissions that clearly lead to an individual. That said, recognizing you said something that was submitted does not necessarily make it a personal attack, but will hopefully provide an opportunity to understand the unintended consequences of your words. Remember that this blog is about making a space for traditionally marginalized voices, and if you don’t identify with some or all of those groups, it still provides an opportunity to listen and examine how your privilege affects yourself and those around you.

4. “Why are you targeting privileged people?”

We’ve also often heard the comment that microaggressions targets straight white upper/middle class able-bodied cis men or other people who come from comparatively privileged backgrounds. “Privileged” and “oppressed” do not stand in for “bad people” or “good people.” When people are asked to take their privilege into account. No one is trying to say the “privileged” are terrible racists. Furthermore, they’re not saying all racists/other ists are awful people; people who are privileged can do or say things that negatively affect marginalized people without meaning to cause harm and without being bad humans. However, it is important to take into account how others interact with your privilege and how it affects your daily life.

We think this project is really important and value everyone’s response. We can only do so much in one blog and in one article (we’re running up against our word count here!). We hope that the stories we post stay with you, and make you uncomfortable - and we also hope that you choose to engage with that discomfort, rather than let it fester in silence. To reiterate: one of our goals with this project is to foster more dialogue on campus about these issues, but we can’t do that without you! Come to our open (real-life) discussions. Leave us an ‘ask’ on tumblr (but please leave your email if you want a response!). Email a moderator listed on the site. Approach us in Sayles. Talk to your friends. Think about how your actions and words can impact others, for better or for worse. Stay awesome!

Elizabeth Callen '14
Lauren Chow '14
Julia Moen '14
Malia Wagner ‘14

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