A Thousand Cuts

Microagressions is a blog project that anyone can contribute to. It is about those little incidents that happen on a daily basis to reinforce silence, discomfort, exclusion and difference.

People post their incidents, often summarized in a few sentences and their reaction to these incidents. Some though, once read require no further explanation.

Here are a few samples:

“Ma’am, you have to wait with your own party! Excuse me, ma’am, you have to wait your turn!”

I was with my boyfriend’s family waiting to eat breakfast with Cinderella in the castle at Disney World Magic Kingdom Resort. His family is white, I’m Asian. After a half an hour wait, our party was called. The cast member tried to stop me from “following” them.


The number of people who congratulate me for “turning” my openly bisexual husband “back”. That is, if they like me, they congratulate me. If they don’t like me, they insinuate that I’m not (pretty/classy/charming/feminine) enough to be with a “real” man.


“I like my women how I like my olive oil – extra virgin ; )”

A Facebook status by a friend.


At the local diner, the waitress asked my friend what I would like to eat. Apparently, because I use a wheelchair, I am unable to order my own lunch.


“No disrespect, man.”

Man on street apologizing TO MY BOYFRIEND after harassing ME and realizing later that I was walking with a guy who was a few steps behind.


“Here, taste this. You’re the rice expert.”

I am a 15 year old Asian female.


“I don’t think I like your tone of voice.”

White male lawyer, “responding” to my politely angry sister’s question about our condo association’s roofing contract. This lawyer had had no problem answering the question posed by an angry man minutes before, of course.


“Men can’t be raped. If you’re a man you consent by default.”

Made me feel isolated.

In all these cases many people are tempted to say something like “Get over it”, “Suck it up”, “It’s no big deal”, “It’s just a joke”, “Just kidding”, “You’re taking this too seriously”, “You’re too sensitive” . 

If such things were only to happen once or twice in a lifetime, or in a year, or in a month, or in a week that might be possible. But for many people these microagressions are an almost daily occurrence.

The blog states:

Each event, observation and experience posted is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt – acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult. Social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.


this project is a response to “it’s not a big deal” – “it” is a big deal. ”it” is in the everyday. ”it” is shoved in your face when you are least expecting it. ”it” happens when you expect it the most. ”it” is a reminder of your difference. ”it” enforces difference. ”it” can be painful. ”it” can be laughed off. ”it” can slide unnoticed by either the speaker, listener or both. ”it” can silence people. ”it” reminds us of the ways in which we and people like us continue to be excluded and oppressed. ”it” matters because these relate to a bigger “it”: a society where social difference has systematic consequences for the “others.”

but “it” can create or force moments of dialogue.

The effects of these types of small moments become cumulative. Not unlike a blister developing after repeated friction on one spot of the skin. As it continues it becomes more and more painful and even debilitating in some cases.

These little unmindful moments are when we recite what we have heard, what we have been socially conditioned to accept and even believe, without question. These little unmindful moments when we blurt out something, not usually even meaning injury and not even considering injury as a possibility.

These little unmindful moments when we can’t understand the effects of our words and actions, when we don’t want to hear, or to believe what we hear.

Injury requires intent. Doesn’t it?


Note on the Title

This post’s title “A Thousand Cuts” comes from the misunderstanding of a method of execution used in ancient China which is more properly rendered slow slicing. It was often used in racist literature to illustrate the notion that Chinese people were barbarians.  It was harsh by current standards but not much moreso than execution and punishment methods in use all over the world at that time. Some of those included keelhauling, the lash, electric chairs, decapitation, drawing and quartering-only outlawed in England a few years earlier than slow slicing (1870 compared to 1905) and caning.


2 comments on “A Thousand Cuts

  1. Pingback: Politics round-up « Flaming Culture

  2. Thank you for pointing me to http://microaggressions.com/. The posts there remind me of the angels in Wings of Desire ticking off the day’s observations (like, “A woman opened an umbrella when it wasn’t raining, and then she closed it.”) except the microagressions are not just absurd, but poignant.

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