Punk Rockers’ Clever Video Shows Harmful Effects of Microaggression

Giant Kitty singer Miriam Hakim is ready for people to stop asking her questions about the Islamic State.
Apr 29, 2016·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

“You don’t look like a Muslim.”

“Are you sure it’s not just hormones?”

Men and women alike are covered in Post-it notes covered with offensive comments in “This Stupid Stuff,” the newest music video from Houston-based punk rock quartet Giant Kitty.

“I was trying to think about how I could translate the concept of microaggressions visually,” lead singer Miriam Hakim told TakePart.

Microaggressions are subtle (and often unintentional) derogatory comments or actions directed at women, minorities, LGBT individuals, and people identifying with other marginalized groups. Although the term was coined in the 1970s, it’s become more commonplace in the past decade, particularly on college campuses. Some critics say anger over microaggressions reflects a society hyper-focused on political correctness and that, because everyone experiences small slights on occasion, people should learn to live with them.

Hakim doesn’t agree, and Giant Kitty’s music video is a rebuttal to those who say she should just deal with small doses of prejudice. “When you say some offhand comment to somebody, and they [in your perception] overreact, you don’t see all the other things people have said to them,” she said.

Minor instances of racism and discrimination have a cumulative impact, in other words. Those who are routinely subjected to microaggressions experience anxiety, self-doubt, and sadness, according to research from Harvard University. The music video visualizes this build-up through layers of sticky notes that some of the character struggle to remove.

Hakim said many of the remarks she can’t shake have to do with her identity as a Syrian American Muslim woman. She said the comments that bother her the most come from people who say she doesn’t look Arab or like a Muslim.

“I have friends and family members who are voting for Cruz or voting for Trump, and when they think about me, they don’t think of me as an Muslim, they don’t think of me as an Arab,” Hakim explained, noting that two-thirds of GOP voters in the New Hampshire primary supported a ban on allowing foreign-born Muslims from entering the country. “They think that I’m an exception, that I don’t understand my own culture, that I don’t understand my own religion. [But] there are lots of different ways to be a Middle Eastern person.”

While Hakim and her three band mates are coated in sticky assumptions, the group also put out all call to friends to share their experiences and participate in the video. Each person featured used their own experiences to create the Post-it notes that layer them in the video. A black woman working in a lab gets stuck with a note that reads, “You’re an engineering Ph.D. student?” A man on a job interview gets pasted with the false assumption that “there are no gay people in Iran.” A Pakistani man and a gay woman trade snarky notes like “Are you a terrorist?” and “lesbian haircut” during a conversation at bar.

As the belittling statements vary from person to person, Hakim noted that her friends expressed agreement regarding what happens when confronting a microagressor. “If you say something, people see you as angry and humorless,” she said. It’s become just another of the labels she’s been tarred with. But she fears that staying silent about microaggressions can have larger implications.

“The line between a microaggression and an outright aggressive case of discrimination or racism is way thinner than people want to realize,” Hakim said. “And having a culture where people think these microaggressions are OK just makes it easier for people to not say anything when bigger things are happening.”