Saturday, March 28, 2015

Is your designer purse a social class microaggression?

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Indiana State University

The idea of microaggressions was first developed in 1970 by C. M. Pierce to describe small aggressions against African-Americans by non-African-Americans (Sue, 2010). Sue described microaggressions as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership." (Sue, 2010). Wikipedia (2015) defined microaggressions as “a form of unintended discrimination. It is depicted by the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.” The Wikipedia authors also noted that “Scientific investigation of microaggression is hampered by the lack of a theory that makes any empirically testable prediction.”

While originally intended to explore ethnicity, the idea of microaggressions has been used to explore other diversity issues. Discussions of gender now use the ideas of microaggressions, as do discussions of religion, and other kinds of diversity. In this blog I want to apply the idea of microaggression to social class. The underlying idea of microaggression requires group membership and social classes, however defined, constitute groups. Classism is class-based prejudice (

Obviously labeled fashion, a phrase introduced to me by Aimee Medina, can be read as "I can afford this and you can't" or as "I have better fashion taste than you". In this way the prestige hierarchy of social class in this culture becomes part of the public behavioral, or performance, dialog. The bag becomes a statement to be read by others. Yes, a designer bag can be a social class microaggression that “without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.” (Wikipedia, 2015)

Micro aggressions are about behaviors which may be interpreted as insensitivities and denigrations. Fashion labels, central to marketing strategies, are used by both seller and buyer in complex ways. The purchase of social or economic status through positional goods, like the purchase of religious or ideological sigils, become public displays, behaviors, of identity. Is your designer purse a social class microaggression? Yes!

Social class microaggressions are there for all of us to see if we look. We look and don't see. A Confederate flag, a sigil for many things obvious and mysterious, is a racist micro aggression for some people. An Ichthys, a sigil of deep and complex meaning on the back of a car is a microaggression against all non Christians. Obviously labeled fashion, a sigil for social class, serves similarly as a microaggression.

Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. New York, NY: Wiley. pp. xvi

Wikipedia, (2015). Microaggression theory.