According to an “Anti-Oppression Library Guide” written by a group of librarians at Simmons College in Boston, “saying ‘God bless you’ after someone sneezes” is a microaggression against Muslim people.
“Islamomisic Microaggressions are commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicates [sic] hostile, derogatory, or negative slights in relation to the beliefs and religious practices of Muslims,” the guide explains. “They are structurally based and invoke oppressive systems of religious/Chrisitan [sic] hierarchy.”
The guide explains that “Islamomisia” is another word for “Islamophobia,” which “is a systematized discrimination or antagonism directed against Muslim people due to their religion, or perceived religious, national, or ethnic identity associated with Islam.”
“Like anti-Semitism, Islamomisia describes mentalities and actions that demean an entire class of people,” it explains.
According to the guide, “saying ‘God bless you’ after someone sneezes conveys one’s perception that everyone is Christian or believes in God,” which is offensive because it “convey[s] people’s presumption that their religion is the standard.”
This is ridiculous for so many reasons that I don’t even know where to start. First of all, the phrase “God bless you” makes absolutely no specific reference to Christianity, let alone any kind of slight against the Islamic faith in particular. It’s not an assault on Islam; it doesn’t even mention Islam.
If anything, “God bless you” could perhaps be said to be offensive to people who don’t believe in a God of any kind, but honestly I don’t think that’s true, either. Why? Because I don’t think it assumes anything; it’s just a phrase. I don’t think people actually think about it; it’s just something that we grow up hearing and so start saying ourselves. It’s really more of a reflex than a declaration of faith. Personally, I’m not religious, but I’d never for a second think to be offended at someone telling me “God bless you” after I’d sneezed. In fact, I’m even brave enough to admit that I myself have said “God bless you” before, and never thought for a second that I could possibly be doing anything offensive. It just doesn’t seem like a big deal.
According to the guide, however, it is a big deal. In fact, it contains an entire section explaining that the prefix “micro” on the word “microaggression” is not intended to convey the idea that such supposed offenses are small matters with small impacts:
Note: The prefix “micro” is used because these are invocation of religious hierarchy at the individual level (person to person), whereas the “macro” level refers to aggression committed by structures as a whole (e.g. an organizational policy). “Micro” in no way minimalizes or otherwise evaluates the impact or seriousness of the aggressions.
The list also includes saying “Merry Christmas” as an example of a microaggression.