Monday, January 5, 2015

Reaction to microaggressions - family style

While reading a blog post on Vitae today, I linked to a new word for me: microaggression. I had not heard the term before, but parsing it in the context of the blog post written to address the need to talk about hard topics, those that give us all pause or raise our hackles, I knew it was a word I needed to learn.

Rather than hitting on a definition of what a microaggression is or is not, I was presented with examples of their occurrence within higher education. The context for which this most significantly applies to my life at present is in the personal or family realm. My second day of 2015 was ripped apart in the afternoon by a call I placed to my dad. I called to let him know I'd followed through on his request from our voicemail exchange to send my brother a text message about keeping the taps on during the hard subzero temperatures we're experiencing this week (they don't call one another for various reasons).

In exchange, I got an outright, typically playful, aggression, demanding to know "Where have you been?" The concern being he wasn't sure if I was OK and all. I explained I'd called the day before and  left a message, and he had done the same in return. I was a little on edge after this, but hoped to see the conversation through.

The conversation continued to go downhill. I was (micro aggressively) berated for not telling my step-sister and her partner that dad was old. He suggested I must have told them he is old because they were treating him that way. He's 72, by the way. I asked why he thought this and he said they were treating him as though he couldn't remember things. I asked him if he had memory problems. He denied, and then I asked him if he thought he was old. I got a circuitous response and again, grew a little more on edge. He's consumed by his mortality. I can't help him, and I feel helpless.

Finally, he asked about my other brother and his new/old girlfriend/fiancee. I said I hadn't heard from them. Again, why he doesn't call his son is outside my understanding. It's always somebody else's fault. Dad moved forward and made comments about whether we were in a fight or if my brother was still in the relationship. I shut down. I admitted I didn't know. Dad asked if I'd made them mad, or the girlfriend, like I did last time they were together. I shut down completely. "Are you there?"

I feel helpless. I know what the response will be if I openly discuss why my silence is there. I know what will happen to me if I continue to be silent. I'm thankful for the open discussion of the blog author, Felicia Harris, Ph. D. candidate, regarding social problems and microaggression. I know the drill for being able to talk about my reactions to others' comments or actions. I know to make it about me and my feelings, not an attack (or perceived as such) on another's part.

What I learned from Ms. Harris' post is that when I address the problem at hand, if the person is or is not responsive and willing to talk about the matter is beyond my control. Yes, I am sure I knew this before, but it feels revolutionary and exciting at this moment.  What I learned from the comments in the microaggression blog entry is that what someone 'intended' to say doesn't matter a lick. It's the *impact* of what was said that carries. Perhaps explaining this to my dad would be helpful. Perhaps not. I will add this to my considerations as I move forward this week. Wish me well. Wish me luck. Offer a prayer. All are good currency with me.

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