On moving and microaggressions

Moving is the worst. A truth universally acknowledged, indeed.

And yet my family is about to embark on that most enjoyable of tasks–packing up and relocating all our worldly possessions. As I contemplate with trepidation in my heart the enormity of this whole enterprise, I am always intrigued by what I find most daunting about moving. Friends and acquaintances are always eager to comment on our number of books (not to mention our DVDs and board games). We are a media-rich family, no doubt about it. Packing books really isn’t that big a deal though, Sure, they are heavy. We may end up with a lot of boxes. But that’s manageable. It’s a single, fairly straight-forward task. Put on some audio commentaries to episodes of Farscape I’ve seen a few dozen times and you end up with a not unpleasant evening of book-boxing. (Protip: Ideally, one gets boxes from the liquor store–ideal size and shape for heavy books). Even furniture doesn’t scare me that much — hire movers and they get things in and out in a highly efficient manner. Nothing too much to worry about there.

No, what I find gets most demoralizing in a move are the little things. Bits of papers and documents I should have sorted through months or years previously to figure out what needs to be kept and what needs to be thrown away. Sorting through clothes to figure out what’s worth taking with us. Finally dissembling all the boxes in the basement from two years’ worth of baby gadgets that we just never bothered to cast out to the recycling. What is trash? What’s worth passing on to be sold at the church attic sale.

In other words–it is all the myriad of little things that make moving house such a nightmare experience. The heavy lifting itself is really more like ripping off a band-aid. Sure, it’s not fun, but at least it’s over with quite quickly. Going through all the odds and ends that seem to multiply miraculously the further one gets to the end of the packing process, is another thing altogether. In other words, sometimes those things that seem like the biggest obstacles to accomplish may take a lot of work, but the truly challenging work can be less obvious on the surface.

I have been thinking quite a lot about this analogy as it relates to the status of various marginalized groups in our North American society. Apparently, it is very tempting for many people to assume that racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. are relics of the past because we live in a world where significant legislation exists to address such issues. Women can vote and hold property. Businesses and employers can no longer discriminate against someone based on the colour of their skin. Marriage equality has finally been deemed the law in both Canada and America. I do not want to diminish the magnitude of any of those policies.

At the same time, the reality is that system racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. remain powerful forces in our world. Often these attitudes manifest themselves in the form of “microagressions.” Just this week, for example, the internet was abuzz with the story of Matt Damon blatantly talking down to Effie Brown, a woman of colour and successful producer, who had been expressing concern about how a sensitive character would be handled by an exclusively white production team. Damon’s comments, while perhaps not damaging to racial equality on a “macro” level, represent how small-scale transgressions reflect the systemic challenges still faced by people of colour. Namely, a successful white male producer does not take into account the complexity of handling a character who happens to be black, and female, and a sex worker with dignity.

It is easy to write people off as being “too sensitive,” especially when they belong to a marginalized group whose experiences we do not share. But these daily “microaggressions” actually reflect that addressing systemic oppression and discrimination of marginalized groups goes much deeper that simply saying “well, we have the Civil Rights Act so racism is no longer an issue.” Creating a truly just and equal society isn’t just about packing up books and moving furniture. It is about doing that truly hard work of sorting through our collective basement filled with junk to figure out what deeply intrenched attitudes need to be cast off into the societal trash heap.

I see far too many people sharing posts of Facebook questioning the wisdom of welcoming refugees because we are afraid of welcoming the other. This week a gifted young boy was arrested because he had the audacity to bring a clock he made to school while having the audacity to not be white. The leading Republican presidential candidate repeatedly make disgusting and disparaging comments against women. LGBT individuals can still be fired without cause in most states, despite the recent ruling of the Supreme Court.

We have done some heavy lifting when it comes to justice and equality for all people in our society. But if we are really going to move this house into a new world that reflects the believe that ALL people are truly made in the image of God — there is much harder work to be done.

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4 thoughts on “On moving and microaggressions

  1. Jon says:

    I hear you about moving. There’s always something sad about wrapping up a phase of life. All sorts of things left unfinished. The good news is, sounds like you’ve got a lot to look forward to.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the whole “microaggression” thing. I get why it exists and why people have embraced it — probably in the hopes that, if you make what boils down to acting like an insensitive or disrespectful jerk (c.f. the Damon incident) sound like a crime, maybe people would more carefully consider their behavior. But being a jerk is an inevitable part of human nature, and in practice the whole matter seems like just another stick people use to bash each other over the head with online. (Can’t wait for Fox News to start counting the weekly “microaggressions against American Christians,” once they pick up on the meme…)

    That having been said, I agree with the majority of your thesis here. (And I really like the whole social-justice-as-cleaning-out-the-basement metaphor.) We still have such a very long way to go as a society, and I can’t even begin to guess how long it will take. But, hey, at least some of us are trying. That’s gotta count for something, right?…

    • As a white male shitlord I probably commit multiple microaggressions per day, but I do get the concept that it’s probably a little like being left handed (which I’m also not). You go through your day, and can only find right-handed scissors, ie. while nobody beats you up or spits on you and says “you filthy left handed freak”, you still encounter multiple little things that remind you that your existence is not considered noteworthy or worthy of respect by the majority around you. Ok, not a great analogy, but what do you expect from a hetero cis scum agent of the patriarchy?

      As for American Evangelicals, until they are actually running the US as an Atwood-esque theo-terror state and hanging their enemies from bridges, I’m sure they’ll find something to yell “persecution!” about.

  2. Jon says:

    /* you still encounter multiple little things that remind you that your existence is not considered noteworthy or worthy of respect by the majority around you. */

    I suppose the problem with more subtle issues like these is many examples might be dependent on perception. Is the left-hander truly being discriminated against, or is there just a order supply form he doesn’t know about that he needs to fill out to get scissors (and everyone who’s done so before happen to have been right-handed)? When is something a “real” microaggression, and when is it in the eye of the beholder? But again, like you said, right-handed heterogeneous cystic sith lord, etc.

    /* until they are actually running the US as an Atwood-esque theo-terror state and hanging their enemies from bridges, I’m sure they’ll find something to yell “persecution!” about */

    I’m fairly certain they’d still find something to yell “persecution!” about even if they reached that point.

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