Microaggressions and You

“Wow, you really have a master’s degree?”

“Your name sounds foreign, but your English is great.”

“You are too young for the job you have.”

“You have a lot to learn.” 

“I’m not racist; my wife is Latinx.”

“Men and women have equal opportunities for achievement.”

“Your hair looks crazy, like it’s unkempt.”

“You are too emotional or cold.” 

Believe it or not, I have heard all of these during my 1st year as the Community Inclusion Liaison. But these comments are not singular to my work-life and often have happened every day. I would like to break down what microaggressions are, why they are harmful, and how to deal with microaggressions. 

What is it?

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of microaggression is a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group. They often happen casually, frequently, and in everyday life. Maybe these comments feel well-intended, , or not out of line, but they are more than just comments. These comments often come because of a person’s membership in a protected class (race, color, religion or creed, national origin or ancestry, sex, age, physical or mental disability, veteran status, genetic information, and/or citizenship). In short, they affect everyone!

Why is it harmful?

It is all about impact here. Even if your statement was without malicious intent, it may be received that way. For example, below is what I said and what message I received. 

What was saidWhat message was received
“Wow, you really have a master’s degree?”People of color are generally not as intelligent as the majority population. 
“Your name sounds foreign, but your English is great”You aren’t American. 
“You are so articulate.”It’s unusual for someone of your race to be intelligent.
“You have a lot to learn, and you are really young for the job you have”You are not qualified and under-prepared for your position.  
“I’m not racist; my wife is Latinx”I could never be racist because I have a wife who is a person of color. 
“Men and women have equal opportunities for achievement.The playing field is even, so if women cannot make it, the problem is with them.
“Your hair looks crazy, likes it’s unkempt”Your hair is not professional or has the right texture. 
“You are too emotional or cold” As a woman of color, you are not allowed to be anything but happy in front of me. 

How to deal with microaggressions:

This can be uncomfortable because we often don’t even think about how our words touch people. But I feel it is important that everyone learns this to be kinder to the people with whom we interact. There isn’t a right way to stop using microaggressions. Some tips I can offer to help you are the following:

  1. Look at what your biases are and what makes you uncomfortable. 
  2. Do your research: Read books and peer-reviewed sources on microaggressions. It is great to talk to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) or LGBTQIA+ folks, but we cannot be responsible for teaching the majority communities. Especially when it comes to issues that may negatively impact us daily, it can be helpful to you but harmful to us reliving trauma. 
  3. If you use microaggression in conversation and someone notifies you of that, start with “I am sorry” and do not be defensive. No one likes to say how you may have negatively impacted them, but be open to turning that conversation into a teaching moment when they decide to share that with you. 

Remember, microaggression stops with you! If you start recognizing, researching the effects and correcting when you use microaggressions, you can have an impact on everyone around you. 

By Semehar Ghebrekidan 

Cited sources:

“Microaggression.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/microaggression. Accessed 26 May. 2022.

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