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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Microaggression is a term coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans. Eventually, the term came to encompass the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, such as the poor and the disabled. It has also been defined as "rooted in racism, sexism, or discrimination based on nationality or sexual orientation. It can be delivered casually or even unconsciously."

It has been argued that the microaggression concept "fits into a larger class of conflict tactics in which the aggrieved seek to attract and mobilize the support of third parties" that sometimes involves "building a case for action by documenting, exaggerating, or even falsifying offenses". Recommendations inspired by microaggression theory, if "implemented, could have a chilling effect on free speech and on the willingness of White people ... to interact with people of color". It has been argued that microaggression theory pools trivial and ignorable instances of racism with real, genuine prejudice and exclusion, is a distraction from dealing with much more serious acts, and can actually cause more emotional trauma than the microaggressions themselves.

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