Microaggressions are subtle, often unconscious forms of discrimination that can have a profound impact on individuals and communities. These everyday insults can harm individuals and contribute to larger systems of oppression. In this article, we will explore what microaggressions are, why they matter, and how we can respond to them.
What are microaggressions?
Microaggressions are verbal or nonverbal behaviours that communicate a negative message to a person from a marginalised group. Microaggressions are often unintentional, but they can be harmful nonetheless. Examples of microaggressions include comments such as
"You're so articulate for a black person," or "You're not like other women, you're one of the guys."
Microaggressions are different from overt forms of discrimination because they are subtle and often difficult to recognise. However, they can be just as harmful because they contribute to a larger culture of discrimination and oppression.
The impact of microaggressions
The impact of microaggressions on individuals can be profound. Experiencing microaggressions can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental and physical health problems. Microaggressions can also erode an individual's sense of self-worth and create feelings of isolation and alienation.
Beyond the individual level, microaggressions contribute to larger systems of oppression. Microaggressions can reinforce stereotypes and stigmatize marginalized groups. They can also create a culture of exclusion, where individuals feel unwelcome or unsafe.
Common types of microaggressions
Microaggressions can take many forms, and they can be based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and other characteristics. Some common types of microaggressions include:
Racial microaggressions: comments or behaviours that communicate negative messages about an individual's race or ethnicity.
Gender microaggressions: comments or behaviours that communicate negative messages about an individual's gender or gender expression.
LGBT microaggressions: comments or behaviours that communicate negative messages about an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Disability microaggressions: comments or behaviours that communicate negative messages about an individual's disability or perceived ability.
Responding to microaggressions
There are many strategies for responding to microaggressions, including calling them out, educating others, and seeking support. Responding with empathy and education can be more effective than responding with anger or defensiveness.
Individuals who experience microaggressions can also take steps to take care of themselves. This might include seeking support from friends or professionals, practicing self-care, or engaging in activism to address larger systems of oppression.
Creating a culture of inclusion
Creating a culture of inclusion means recognising and addressing microaggressions. Organisations can take many steps to create a culture of inclusion, including:
Clearly communicating that there is no tolerance in your team for microagressions
Providing training on microaggressions and unconscious bias
Creating policies that prohibit microaggressions and provide a process for addressing them
Encouraging open and honest communication about microaggressions
Supporting employee resource groups and other diversity initiatives
Microaggressions may seem small, but their impact can be significant. By recognising and addressing microaggressions, we can create a more equitable and inclusive organisations. It is up to all of us to educate ourselves, respond with empathy and education, and work towards creating a culture of inclusion.