Microaggression and Diversity: Tracing Indonesian University Students’ Attitudes toward Pluralism through Metaphorical Creative Expressions

Andreas Akun  & Wiwik Andreani

Bina Nusantara University, Indonesia

Vol. 1, No. 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/bp.v1n1.10


This is a library study of university students’ instant poems about their attitudes toward pluralism in Indonesia. The goals of the study are to identify the tones of the poems and then trace the microaggressive attitudes toward pluralism through the metaphorical expressions found in the poems. The study of the poems has revealed that microaggressions may take diverse unrealized forms, such as seeing difference as wrong or sinful, considering the “rainbow” of diversity as piteous, viewing intermingled mixtures of different backgrounds with ambiguous attitudes, the impossibility of having a real sense of “we” belonging, fictiveness of superior ethnicity and both sides of microaggression, disempowering diversities with too many differences,   merely teaching and telling of diversity without modeling, surfacing of microaggressive domination, and questioning the fiction of authentic ethnicity. All issues have been proven to be the new faces of modern and subtle racism and chauvinism with their growing underground power to reject diversity.

Key Words: Pluralism, microaggression, metaphor, attitude, poetry


Our previous study of five university students of English Department in Jakarta and surrounding has shown prospectively positive result, where out of 153 sampling participants, most of them (65%) have positive attitude toward pluralism issue in Indonesia. Only a small number of them (16%) who have negative attitude and 19% of them are neutral or ambiguous (Akun & Andreani, 2015). However, the everyday reality still shows us that problems of pluralism in this country keep emerging where intolerance and prejudice of other groups with different backgrounds keep surfacing at the same time. The latest issue—without forgetting the most tragic 1998 racial tension or 1965 political riot—is the Tolikara incident where a number of Christian people were reported to ban Muslims from praying and celebrating Idul Fitri at the end of the fasting month.

            Based on this background, it is challenging to delve into the root of the problems, resting in the reasons why people have negative or ambiguous attitudes toward pluralism reality. Thus, this study centers around the problems of negative attitudes, and more specifically portrays the micro-aggression as captured both directly and indirectly in the students’ creative and poetic expressions. The study will be limited to 111 English Department students from three universities i.e. Bina Nusantara University Jakarta (53 participants, private university, non-ideological), University of Indonesia Depok (38 participants, state university), and Maranatha Christian University Bandung (20 participants, private university, under a certain religious ideology). Specifically, the study will be focused on the negative and ambiguous/neutral attitudes from the students to trace their everyday experience in dealing with pluralism issues. The three universities have sufficiently represented diverse backgrounds for the students to reflect diversity experiences.


To better understand of people’s attitude toward pluralism, indirect spontaneous expressions may help in a significant way as it gives a deeper look into the root of the surfacing diversity realities. Probing the tones and metaphorical expressions can be one option worth consideration for this purpose, and this study attempts to show the possible findings among the young intellectuals. The concepts of diversity, micro-aggression, and tone in poetry are on the first place provided to examine the issue of pluralism—one fundamental issue raised from the beginning of this country establishment until today.

Diversity, simply defined, is “the quality of being different…derived from ‘diverse’ meaning differing from one another, or simply composed of distinct elements or qualities”(Parvis, 2013: 13). The key word is ‘difference’ as something absolute and the essence of discussing diversity to date is to keep learning how to accept these differences to live harmoniously among others as social beings. There are many types of diversity such as “culture, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, age, ability, language, weight, style, idea, income, orientation, geographic location, and many more aspects which make people unique” (p. 15). The diversity discussed in this study covers race, ethnicity, religion, culture, and social class. The issues are explored through the negative and pessimistic responses depicted in the students’ poems. We assume that this dark side discussion—as opposed to the positive responses—may provide a more comprehensive look of the matter and may help finding the best attitudes to be strengthened especially through diversity education.

The attitudes toward pluralism is not always direct and observable, and the experience of marginalizing and being marginalized in the plural society when number counts is also subtle and even consciously unintended. In everyday life, the negative attitudes addressed to the minority by the majority and vice versa may result in microaggressive attitudes when they subtly happen beyond awareness or consciousness of both sides. Specifically, according to Sue (2010) these negative attitudes are characterized by “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional , that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group” (p. 5). Most of the time the perpetrators are unintentional or unaware of their involvement in committing the microagrgessions, and that is why attention to this matter needs more effort to make everyone aware of the deeds. Further, Sue (2010) has focus more on microaggressions in everyday life covering race, gender, and sexual orientation. He has divided racial microaggression into three: individual racism, institutional racism, and cultural racism. Firstly, individual racism is “overt, conscious, and deliberate individual acts intended to harm, place at a disadvantage, or discriminate against racial minorities. Serving Black patrons last, using racial epithets, preventing a White son or daughter from dating or marrying a person of color, or not showing clients of color housing in affluent White neighborhoods are all examples” (p. 7). It is obvious that this type of racism is more individual or personal developing out of this smaller scope of individual dynamics including hate crimes at their extreme ends…Full Text PDF