The word has been around since the 1970s.
But only over the last few years has it begun to spin its way into public discourse and pop culture.
Most Italians have never heard of it. But especially during the current election season in the U.S. (with all the racist subtones), the term is starting to spring up more and more in the U.S. media.
What is a microaggression?
The best succinct explanation I’ve been able to find so far is this video by Columbia University Professor Derald Wing Sue who has written a couple of books on the subject.
Microaggressions, he explains, are everyday slights, indignities, putdowns, or insults that marginalized people experience in their day-to-day interactions. And they can often be perceived as compliments by the utterer.
A wine blog is not the place to get into some of the more hurtful racially charged microaggressions that are still uttered on a daily basis here in America.
So I’ll give you an example of a microaggression that I experience a lot when I travel in Italy.
With a Ph.D. in Italian and many years spent living and working in Italy, I speak Italian with near native-speaker proficiency. But many Italians insist on talking to me in English when I’m in Italy even when that means that we can’t communicate efficiently.
The subtext is how could a dumb American like you speak Italian?
Last year, I experienced a microaggression in New York when I visited my favorite lower Manhattan natural wine bar. When I asked the bartender about a Chardonnay by-the-glass, he was clearly annoyed and asked, “Do you like okay buttery Chardonnay? ‘Cause that’s what it tastes like.”
The subtext was you look like a dumb tourist who could never understand what real wine tastes like. The wine I asked about was in fact a unoaked and unmaloed Chardonnay, vinified in a natural style.
These microaggressions are nothing compared to those that my black, gay, and women friends, for example, are subjected to on a daily basis. And that’s not to mention the many historic microaggressions that are often woven into daily parlance (their original meaning often forgotten).
But I hope that these examples help to convey the idea.
I began thinking of microaggressions and wine the other day when I overheard a famous wine writer say: Wow, that’s pretty good for a Negroamaro!
It was as if he were saying: All Negroamaro is inferior and so what a surprise to find a good one!
I’m sure it never occurred to him that he probably hasn’t had enough experience tasting Negroamaro to realize that in fact there are some truly great ones out there.
Or was he revealing inadvertently that he harbors a genuine prejudice against Negroamaro for some personal reason, perhaps because of some episode in his life that soured him on Negroamaro.
His utterance reminded me of a Lambrusco producer who recently told me that there was no such thing as a good Gragnano.
Her utterance reminded me of a Franciacorta producer who recently told me that there is no such thing as a good Lambrusco.
What I’m getting at is that even if it were true that there is no such thing as a good Negroamaro, there is no negating that there are people in the world who genuinely like Negroamaro (I’m one of them).
And in my view, if there is even just one human being in the world who likes Negroamaro (and in fact there are many of them), then Negroamaro has intrinsic value for humanity.
Historically, Negroamaro has been marginalized for a number of different reasons.
In the newly revised Oxford Companion to Wine, the editors write that Negroamaro “fell victim to the EU vine pull schemes with the total area planted falling from 31,000 ha/76,500 acres in 1990 to just 11,460 ha/28,318 acres by 2010.”
That has started to change over the last six years.
I don’t have any hard data on its revival but I know that more and more producers from Salento — like Cantele — have embraced Negroamaro as their flagship grape. And there’s more Negroamaro available in the U.S. than ever before in my adult lifetime.
So the next time you decide to give Negroamaro a chance, remember that some of us are Negroamaro and proud of it!