Microaggressions atheists experience

Derald Wing Sue

Derald Wing Sue and David Sue — in their book Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice — defire ‘microaggressions’ as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to a target group” (p. 150). They further explain microaggressions as being subtle, automatic, unintentionally, and unconsciously enacted. Absent Sue and Sue’s list of examples are atheists. What are some microaggressions atheists may experience?

Sue and Sue, in table 6.1 (p. 156-160), provide several examples of microaggressions and messages. One such example is that a person saying “You only got into college because of affirmative action” sends a message that a person isn’t smart enough to get into college.

I’m skeptical of many examples of microaggressions Sue and Sue list (and the concept itself) because the ‘messages being sent’ seem extremely subjective; not all people would feel denigrated upon hearing a certain message. For instance, Sue and Sue say that people who utter “Merry Christmas” as a universal greeting send a message that one’s religious beliefs are not important and that everyone should celebrate Christmas. I don’t take offense or feel denigrated when people wish me a merry Christmas, but rather consider it a tiding of joy.

Which microaggressions have I, as an atheist, experienced? What messages have I felt being sent?

  • Microaggression: “You just haven’t searched hard enough for God”
  • Message: You haven’t considered the arguments and reasons people give for belief in God; your atheism is not the result of an intellectual journey.

When people utter variations of this microaggression, I feel slighted because my journey to atheism was a result of intellectual reflection, study, and interaction with theistic arguments. I make an effort to keep up-to-date on arguments from religious believers to keep myself honest. I have participated in recorded formal debates. I was raised within a Roman Catholic framework; I went to C.C.D. classes, received sacraments, was an altar boy, and was a reader at masses. I am not an atheist because I haven’t ‘searched hard enough for God.’ I am an atheist because of an intellectual journey.

  • Microaggression: “Atheism is just a phase you are going through” / “You’ll believe what you get older”
  • Message:  You haven’t really explored the issues at hand. Your naivety has lead you to be an atheist and you can’t properly call yourself an atheist.

This microaggression is similar to “you just haven’t searched enough for God.” Rather than addressing any arguments, the person attempts to discredit the individual – seemingly disqualifying them from holding a position because of age, life experience (or lack thereof), or anger.

  • Microagression: “Sharing your views is intolerant of religious believers.”
  • Message:  Religious believers are welcome to share their views on any given issue, and that is OK, but atheists simply aren’t welcome to share their views – they are not afforded the same respect as religious believers.

This microagression sets a double-standard in which the ‘preferred’ belief is permissible while the ‘non-preferred’ belief’ is not. Religious believers not only have a moral right to share their beliefs, but are afforded some sort of ‘protection’ from dissent. Religious beliefs are assumed to be the norm while atheists who question religious beliefs are assumed to be acting in an immoral fashion – they should just sit down and shut up.

Not all atheists will respond to certain microagressions in similar ways; some might feel denigrated, slighted, or not at all bothered. Personally, I seldomly become angry and often believe that religious persons who would utter microagressions mean well and don’t know better. I take time, on some occasions, to explain why their microagressions are based on faulty reasoning and hardly become emotional.

What are some microaggressions you, as an atheist, have experienced? How do the above microagressions I listed make you, as an atheist, feel? Are you a religious believer who may have uttered some of the microagressions I have listed? What was the response you received?