Ahmed today is making a new documentary with the working title “The Injured Body.” The film was inspired by the book “Citizen: An American Lyric,” by the poet Claudia Rankine. In a slim volume that itself blends genres—it’s part prose, part poetry, interspersed with photography and visual arts—Rankine illuminates the microaggressions that accumulate like toxins in the lives of people of color in the United States.
A microaggression is an insult aimed at someone based on their membership in a marginalized group: A security guard follows an African-American shopper in a department store. A man makes a sexist joke expecting his female colleague to laugh. A teacher refuses to pronounce an immigrant student’s name properly.
“Microaggression can be related to racism, but it can also be about gender, sexism or class,” Ahmed says. “I wanted to explore all those nuances in the film.”
What makes an aggression “micro” isn’t that it’s trivial but that it’s often fleeting, possibly unintentional—and all too common. Asked if she ever experiences microaggressions, Ahmed says yes, often, and recalls that long-ago lunch with colleagues—although on reflection that strikes her as more blatantly aggressive. Asked if she’s ever committed a microaggression, she says yes, she recently assumed someone’s religion based on his name. Few people are immune from acting out unconscious biases.
It can be hard to identify a microaggression as it occurs, because in the context of the dominant culture the action or comment can seem normal. On the receiving end, the body might react before the brain knows why. More here.