Microaggressions are described as indirect, subtle (yet often unintentional) acts of discrimination against a minority group. They are everyday casual expressions of racism, misogyny, homophobia, or ableism that leave the person on the receiving end feeling uncomfortable and invalidated. Death by a thousand cuts you could say.
“Where are you really from?” Or “You are so articulate.”
These seemingly harmless questions are something BIPOC are asked every day. It can be harmful to some, as it can make the receiver of that question feel like they do not belong, and that the perpetrator is surprised that they subscribe to their idea of whiteness when society has told them that that is not the norm.
These extremely subtle messages are endured by marginalised people across the majority of their routine interactions. It can make it difficult to speak up and often results in the victim suffering in silence, causing long term psychological damage and low self esteem, which can lead to other physical health issues. They can be worse than overt and intentional racism because they so casually feed into normality.
Racial microaggressions specifically can be a result of implicit (or unconscious) bias, and understanding why we feel the way we feel towards certain demographics of people can be extremely helpful when trying to unlearn these behaviours.
What is implicit bias? Implicit bias is described by the Kirwan Institute as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, action and decisions in an unconscious manner”. So no matter how good intentions may be, we are still generally wired to hold a bias that favours our own group or the favourable groups within our own society.
How to respond if you’re called out for a microaggression
Firstly, this is not a personal attack.
Having the courage to address microaggressions or accept that you may have said something harmful may be challenging to deal with at first. The first gut reaction is often discomfort, defensiveness and embarrassment. This is the time to take the focus away from the feelings of the perpetrator and onto the feelings of the victim. How do you make this situation right? When you step on a person’s foot, you wouldn’t focus on your own guilt, you would address the injury.
Acknowledge and listen to feedback.
Publicly challenging racism is daunting, and this is a chance to evolve and learn something useful to prevent making similar mistakes in the future.
Apologise and keep learning.
“I’m sorry, I will not use that phrase again”. A sincere apology shows maturity and growth. Be grateful for the opportunity to be more self aware and to have the ability to strengthen your own relationships.