A microaggression is any unwittingly harmful words or behaviors that cause another to experience emotional pain, exclusion, or discrimination. Microaggressions are rampant and while most often perpetrated against historically marginalized groups, majority groups experience microaggressions too, albeit to a lesser degree.
I come from the camp of, “If I can name it. I can change it.” And, identifying and labeling these subtle acts of exclusion* means we can begin the process of increasing awareness and buy-in to change.
Here is the kicker – microaggressions are small, seemingly innocuous acts, committed by clueless people with biases (hint: that is every one of us), from a place of ignorance to the full weight of their effect on others. These slights are harmful because, to the victim, this is not the first, second, or 100th time they have experienced this - it’s the 100×100th time.
One ant bite stings. One hundred ant bites are awful. 1000+ ant bites are disabling and even deadly.
Let me share some examples (and please forgive the lack of nuance, missing factors, and many variances that are surely present in every instance):
The offending party does not intend to be racist or discriminatory. They are typically shocked and will not agree that there was aggression or racism in their comments. This is in fact why, when the microaggression is called-out, the individual will often respond defensively,
"I’m not a racist. I would never intentionally say something meant to hurt you or any BIPOC.”
Furthermore, you may also be aware of more virulent reactions such as, “I’m so tired of all this political correctness. All the snowflakes out there think everything anyone ever says is offensive.”
Resistance and defensiveness is a sign that greater attention to mindful deliverance of diversity and inclusivity values, and communication learning experiences are needed. This includes interpersonal effectiveness development to help us better respond with neutral appreciation, when we say something that offends another.
This leads us to the logical next step: What is the best way to manage microaggressions in the workplace? The answer requires more than a simple checklist. However, there are a few tips that I would like to briefly leave you with: