It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
This week, I spoke with David Zhou and Vivia Lu, who are the founders of Microaggressions, a user-generated Tumblr blog that let’s people talk about their experiences with microaggressions.
Let’s talk about Microaggressions. Can you describe how the site works and what it does?
Currently, Microaggressions is an interactive submissions-based project. Each post includes a short contextualization and the psychological impact on the person. We have a handful of editors who help us select and edit each post to provide a collage of events that depict the volume of daily disempowerment endured over time by people who identify with oppressed social identities.
Ultimately, we are trying to show connections between daily personal experience and larger, systemic and institutional injustices in society. We are also trying to show intersectional experience between various social identities, particularly race, socioeconomic class, gender, sexuality, religion, body issues. At the same time, the project is not about showing how ignorant people can be in an effort to demonize them. It’s really about showing how their actions can create and enforce unsafe spaces that have larger social effects. We are hoping to publish a parallel blog that provides in-depth long-form analysis of the issues at stake.
How did you get the idea to start Microaggressions? Was there a
particular event that sparked the idea, or was it more of a gradual process?
David and I ranted to each other during an otherwise lethargic class about microaggressive experiences from our lives. Eventually we started a meticulous record of microaggressions that have happened or are happening to us. This was somewhat in response to an incident on campus at the time where a student government party running for office had plastered campus with flyers reading, “Two Asian Girls at the same time,” which really upset some of our friends who saw that it evoked pornographic fetishization of Asian women and lesbians, while others completely denied that it was inappropriate in any way. (We’ve written about this experience, and will post an essay soon on the site about it.)
This was our middle ground and answer of sorts, where we wanted to show that some of our friends’ anger was coming from a lifetime of similar microaggressions that relate to larger histories and systemic injustice. We began with incidents that we remembered from our own lives where gender, race (we are both Asian American), class, and sexuality hierarchies were enforced by people around us, beginning with elementary school teachers, family, and peers. Originally entitled “Notes on Everyday Life,” this document eventually became the first posts of our blog when we decided to share it online and ask our peers for their experiences. While we had the idea during college, we brought the idea to life several months later when we had time to look for the online platforms and services that could facilitate our project. Once we had it up, we emailed about 40 friends, and the site took off from there with the help of social networks.
What has it been like being the founders of such a relatively well-known project? Have you made any connections with other activists, and with contributors to your site?
It’s been really exciting and challenging. We get questions, feedback, requests, and critiques every day that expand our thinking about allied and intersectional activism. It’s also been wonderful to meet other folks doing similar work and talking about how we can collaborate. We’ve involved people we’ve only met online into the project – for comment moderation and the upcoming site redesign, for example.
We’d like to take some of the project offline – into print media and conferences – in order to engage audiences who might not be connected to the social justice blogosphere. We really appreciate when people reach out to us!
Have there been any contributions that particularly touched you?
The fact that people submit and spend their time contributing to the project with experiences from settings as mundane as work and intimate as family is really touching to me. David and I would have long fizzled out if we were just posting our own experiences. Most recently, I really appreciated that we recently were contacted by a concerned individual to create a separate trans* tag, and have since received a lot of trans microaggressive experiences to post.
We have a little number on all of our posts that count how many times people have reblogged/liked it, and while the numbers vary drastically from post to post, I really appreciate the ones that don’t get liked/reblogged as much. They’re usually a much more subtle or “everyday” submission, and less particularly shocking/immediately WTF bloggable, which really represents the bulk of microaggressions that really wear people down in their day to day lives.
What experiences have you yourself had with such microaggressions, and how do you deal with them when they come up?
In a way, our upbringings were primed with experiences that have opened our eyes to these invisible oppressive actions.
I grew up in Colorado and began thinking critically about race, gender, class, religion, and sexuality mostly when I moved to NYC for college. I was initially shocked at the visibility of racial segregation of NYC neighborhoods – even simply taking the 7 train to Queens and slowly watching all the white people get off. I was also initially shocked at street harassment I received that was intensely racialized and gendered. This opened the door for me to question a lot more about the ways in which social identities impact individual lives. It was a heartbreaking and devastating process, where I re-learned American history not taught in public grade schools and re-remembered my own childhood experiences and realized the different ways in which social identities I hold affected how people treated me and my family. Because so many of these microaggressions had happened so long ago, the only way to record and recognize them was for me to write them down. For microaggressions now, it depends on the safety and comfortability of the situation, as many of our submitters explain. Most of the time, I don’t call microaggressions out. Sometimes, I’m so bored and numb from unoriginality (Where are you really from? / That’s an interesting major for you.) that I give up.
David attended a private high school in NYC of extreme class privilege, where he witnessed a lot of blatant oppressions along race, gender and class. Growing up in those environments caused us to meet in student organizing circles during college, where we saw even more microaggressive actions by the nature of our work.
What do you both do aside from running Microaggressions? What are some other projects you are working on?
Besides the blog, there’s a lot that we’d like to do with the project. Right now, we’re in the middle of a site redesign that will eventually enable us to launch a parallel blog on the site with in-depth analysis of systemic injustice through personal memoirs/creative writing, essays, and artwork. The redesign will also allow us to integrate better search options and technical features. In addition to the redesign, we are also working on releasing print materials for education about various issues related to microaggressions, for which we’ve gotten many requests. These materials can hopefully be used in classrooms, workplace trainings, diversity workshops, etc. to provide an engaging, interactive way to teach issues of privilege and power.
As for ourselves personally, we aren’t “full-time activists or organizers.” Vivian spent this last year working as family shelter staff at a NYC domestic violence organization, and I taught in Korea. We are both starting graduate school this year – Vivian in sociocultural anthropology and I in computational biology.
While we’re not professional organizers, we believe that our politics are full-time. Anyone can be part of this project if they have experiences to share and the time to listen and reflect.
Thanks for taking the time to share your answers with us!