Let me explain through an example. I collect comic books, toys, video games, films, etc. It is not at all uncommon for me to be perusing the aisles of my local mega store searching for odd collectibles, chase figures, or just a random toy that from one of my many favorite series. It is also not at all uncommon for me to take one of these finds to a cashier who will say something like, "would you like a gift receipt in case the little guy doesn't like it." This example is to put some of the many things I've heard mildly. Now, this statement was said innocently enough by the unassuming cashier. The issue here is that this snippet of dialogue contains a series of value statements. What is being implied is that the toy cannot be for me, it must be for a child. The implication is that the thing I'm purchasing is for someone younger than me, it's an item that was designed for a less mature person.
Now I'm giving the crashiest of crash courses on Micro Aggressions here, but I hope that this example illustrates my point. To go further with the example, I have grown comfortable with having no shame at all in saying, "Oh no, it's for me, I'm sure I won't be returning it." Now some cashiers will simply appear somewhat embarassed (that's because they've realized their value statement), and just make a comment back in a friendly way, or apologize. I've also experienced instances where the aggression becomes less micro and more macro. The individual will add, "well aren't you a little old for a toy." Sometimes I simply move on, sometimes I have a snarky comment.
The reality is that we make these sort of value statements all the time. I'm just as guilty as anyone else out there of having these slip ups. I like to think that when I catch myself, or get called on them, that I at least take ownership of my mistake. That somehow my knowledge of this process makes me somewhat more sensitive to the idea is a hope of mine. I recognize that this is not always the case. My apologies to anyone I've ever victimized in this way. I'm going to continue describing my concern with the issue of micro aggressions on we geeks as a whole, though.
I'll make sure to post very soon about my thoughts surrounding "gamer / geek snobbery." That's actually the topic that got me interested in writing this evening, but I see the topic evolving, and so I'm going to head into a more general area. My area of work, the mental health arena, is full of very sensitive and caring folks. I have had the privelege to work with a number of excellent practitioners. That having been said, the truth is I almost never feel as offended as by the people within my own field of study. This isn't to say all, or even most, but just a noticeable majority. The reality is that individually many of the folks I associate with on a day to day basis are as interested in my work as I am of their various endeavors. This is not to suggest, though, that my day to day experience is devoid of micro aggressions. In fact it is quite the opposite. You see, many folks peg these sort of interactions as only being found in interactions that are cross race or ethnicity, cross gender, cross disability or lack therein, or cross sexual orientation. No one presumes that it's a cross cultural issue (from the broader definition of culture).
I get extremely excited about my research area. It's a subject so near and dear to my heart that when something new is happening in the geek multiverse I feel the need to share it. This need to share is something that I think is fairly common among we geeks, that too will be a discussion for another time. The reaction when I share about something geeky that is exciting to me is very often met with some passive chuckles from a room filled with my colleagues, students, or lecture attendees. I often ask why the chuckles or comments, but I get no real response. Please believe me, though, that the message is heard loud and clear. I recognize that I'm being judged in those moments. That despite my high level of academic and career achievement, I'm being judged as speaking from a stance lower than myself. I take issue with this. I'll explain why.
Other than the obvious sense of feeling hurt or excluded that comes from this exposure, I feel as though I'm being betrayed. I take the same stance with other people across my many platforms. If someone has something that they love, I try to give that as much respect as I can possibly muster. I may have no knowledge on the subject. I may have no lasting interest, which is to say I won't be reading about it on my own time. I may even be opposed to the topic being discussed. However, if I can respect you then I can respect your topic of discussion. If I've ever offended in this area, it certainly wasn't intentional on my part, and I would be the first to apologize. I think this lack of mutual respect is what is concerning to me. I'm frequently told that the reason that I get chuckles or comments about my work is that it's something that I bring up with just about any topic. This leads me to my conclusion. There is an inherent lack of understanding at the level of importance this topic area holds for me. It's not just a hobby, it's a part of my life.
The take away from this, and it will be echoed in my upcoming discussion of "geek snobbery," is rather simple. Just be respectful. I recognize that if you're reading my blog, then I'm probably preaching to the choir. However, in the off chance that I'm getting someone out there who this message will impact I'll elaborate. Just because it seems juvenile, inane, boring, unrelated, etc. does not mean that it is any less important of an idea than anything that you're thinking. Let me add this too for your consideration. I'm (and I'm taking ownership of this idea, though it goes for anyone you're judging) as susceptible to judging you as you are of judging me. When I feel hurt by your value statement, I'm likely to be creating a certain value statement towards you right back. As is commonly said in my family "right, wrong, or indifferent" your reaction to me is providing me feedback. Hopefully, this blog entry provides some opportunity for each of us to re-evaluate our own reactions to one another in the future.