Yes, That Was A Microaggression


Danielle Brooks, the African-American actress who plays Taystee in “Orange is the New Black,” felt that she had been insulted and racially stereotyped as she boarded a plane this week with a First Class ticket because she is, you know, rich. Thus she used  Twitter to complain about a “microaggression.”

I hate when gate agents look at me like I’ve never flown first class and say “You’re in first class, lucky you!”???? really tho

— Danielle Brooks (@thedanieb) June 30, 2016

The celebrity news site Heat Street mocked her complaint, and the mockery was picked up by some conservative sites, though many in the Twitterverse  supported the complaint. Sneered Ed Driscoll on Instapundit:

The nerve of that gate agent! Making $45K a year and not even having an expensive cadre of writers sculpting her dialogue and a director shaping her performance and a cameraman shooting take after take to get things just so! Incidentally, I wonder if the people who imagine all of these microagressions occurring ever wonder why they just keep happening over and over to them? But, really, as with Alec Baldwin accosting American Airlines stewardesses, what’s the sense of being a leftist one percenter who believes in tolerance and diversity if you can’t publicly attack people who actually work for a living? 

Driscoll’s comment is classic conservative jerkism. Brooks was right; the comment was condescending and based on racial stereotypes, she was right to be insulted, and right to make a public comment that might make others aware of what such a comment conveys.

Nobody ever says to me, when I fly First Class, which is rarely, “Lucky you!” because I’m an old white guy, and First Class is crawling with old white guys. Why should a gate agent leap to the assumption that a young black woman is “lucky” to be flying first class? They assume I’m flying up front because I can afford it and want to fly that way (actually, in my case, if I have a client who buys me a luxury seat, I am lucky.) What the comment conveys to a young black woman like Brooks is, “Wow, we don’t see many of your kind in First Class!” The comment is redolent of the way the First Class passengers treat Leonardo DiCaprio when Kate Winslet brings him to meet her snotty fellow glitterati on the Titanic.

There are real racial microaggressions, and there are innocent interactions that race-baiters and grievance collectors complain about to place whites on the defensive. Too many social justice warriors are unable to make reasonable distinctions between the two, because confirmation bias leads them to the default position of being offended. For their part, critics of the race-grievance industry can’t recognize real microaggressions, because of their own confirmation bias.

This is a blatant example of the latter. Brooks was apparently made to question her own sensitivity, and deleted her tweet.

She shouldn’t have. It wasn’t intentional by the agent, but it was demeaning nonetheless, and completely appropriate for the actress to cry foul.


14 thoughts on “Yes, That Was A Microaggression

  1. Such a comment would be rude, condescending, and even racist (I refuse to use the term “microaggression” when common-sense real words are already available,) but I wouldn’t have given the tweet any attention simply because the story is very likely to be made up.

    If Brooks had named the exact flight and airline, the hostesses would have probably been identified, harassed online, and eventually interviewed, at which point they would probably deny ever having said anything like that to any black passengers, because, the more I think about it, the more I can’t imagine it actually happening. It would be at least against the spirit of what I imagine goes into the training and culture of airline hospitality. The named parties would possibly even have proof or witnesses to back them up, at which point Brooks would beg off, much like Oprah did after her shameful handbag incident went viral in ways she didn’t intend.

    But if Brooks didn’t provide any details, didn’t provide an exact quote, and didn’t complain directly to the airline, then it would be best to ignore her story since there’s a very good chance it’s completely made up, highly exaggerated, a misunderstanding, or completey delusional. I’d never call her a liar, but we’ve been through this SO many times before (Muslim soda can woman, anyone?) Tales of microaggression are like fishing stories; the bigger the slight, the more respect/victim/struggle cred you earn from your peers. That form of capital is craved by the privileged.

      • Even if it’s made up it’s a good point to make..?


        Do you mean it’s good for her to make the point even if it’s untrue?

        Or it’s good for you to discuss a hypothetical situation even if the trigger for this hypothetical is a made up situation?

        • If she was speaking in the hypothetical, it would be a legitimate observation. She wasn’t, or at least I see no reason to think so. It would be good to make the point; it would not be good to claim an incident occurred that didn’t. The issue discussed, however, is whether that comment is a true “microaggression.” It is in the abstract, in theory, or in reality, and as far as the ethical analysis of THAT issue goes, it doesn’t matter which.

    • If she’d provided details, it would have actually been a public attack, and disproportionate retribution for someone who was trying to be friendly in a clumsy sort of way. I appreciate that she didn’t. Besides, the sort of person to make up a story would invent a more dramatic one than this relatively tame anecdote. I barely registered it at first.

      I get that acting pleasantly surprised is part of being chipper, which is why I read the first half thinking that the stewardess was being completely reasonable. However, as I read further, I realized Jack was right. The key word here is “surprised”. Any time a person acts pleasantly surprised at something you do, the implication is that you aren’t expected to do that. Any time a person acts pleasantly surprised to see you somewhere, the implication is that you aren’t expected to be there.

      Acting pleasantly surprised at a stranger’s kindness is fine–people don’t often act generous to those they don’t know. Acting pleasantly surprised at a friend’s kindness implies that you think they’re usually unkind. Conversely, acting pleasantly surprised that a friend appears somewhere is fine: they’re just one person, so it is often improbable you’d see them in a place unless you planned it or you go there often.

      However, acting pleasantly surprised to see a stranger in a place implies that you can tell just by looking at them that they somehow don’t belong. What you should do is treat them normally, because to do otherwise is to reinforce the idea in your head and theirs that it’s not “normal” for them to be there, which creates a feeling of alienation that neither of you really wants.

      “Chipper and witty” has its place, but while “serene and matter-of-fact” is not a behavioral ideal for everyone in all circumstances, I find that when it comes to dealing with people I don’t know, it never steers me wrong. (See also my “how to not be a bigot” post on Jack’s review of Zootopia ethics.)

  2. There’s a great deal to be said for “calling a spade a spade.” Too bad the phrase and its concise reference to playing cards has fallen prey to the niggardly principal and been conflated with a racial slur.

    • Cecily: This is no time for wearing the shallow mask of manners. When I see a spade I call it a spade.

      Gwendolen: I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.

      Perhaps my favorite exchange in “The Importance of Being Earnest”!

  3. It seems curious to me that the tweet was written as if this is a habitual occurrence, yet it’s being discussed (not just here) as if it was a single, current incident. Not expecting the exact wording to be the same, of course.

  4. Yeah well… life’s too short.

    There’s plenty of Big Stuff, in my life, and I suspect Ms Brooks’ too, to spend too much time sweating the Small Stuff. A single tweet is about all it’s worth, and I wouldn’t bother even with that.

    I also wouldn’t criticise anyone who did. This is unlikely to be the first time, or even the first time this week, for stuff like that to happen. So yes, tweet if it gets just a bit too harrowing to let it all pass without comment.

    Then let it go, move on, there’s more important issues.

  5. Definitely a “microaggression” pertaining to race. But also an extremely smaller one towards wealth in general as the vast majority of wealthy people don’t become so through luck.

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