You might have seen the term microaggressions pop up on social media platforms over the last decade or so. While many use this term for any form of small aggression, when unmasking microaggressions, you'll see they are usually linked to unconscious or implicit bias.
These biases or judgments are often automatic, like autopilot. However, they can influence our behavior and how we view certain people or places - making us think it's acceptable to make subtle but inappropriate jokes or comments because "Everyone does it," or "It's a joke." While we may or may not be aware of these actions, it's important to understand the effect of microaggressions and how they harm those who continuously have to deal with them.
This educational guide will teach you about inclusive terms and unmask microaggressions. We’ll also give some suggestions on how to address them in different sectors and provide a list of supportive resources to ensure your inclusive practices are current and promote DEI (Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion).
Let's unmask some common microaggressions.
Before proudly waving the DEI flag, you have to understand the theory behind why it's so important.
Did you know that the term microaggressions was actually coined in the '70s by Harvard University professor Chester Pierce? Under Pierce's definition, it was used to describe the subtle but constant ways black people experienced discrimination from white people. Since then, scholars specializing in inequality, inclusion, and diversity, and many who experience microaggressions daily, have said "microaggressions'' isn't a good enough description and often prefer the term "exclusionary behaviors." These subtle acts of exclusion or SAEs are designed to exclude people, pushing them further away towards the margins.
Most importantly, microaggressions can happen anywhere. They aren’t limited to one particular place.
Many also agree that there are subcategories of microaggressions or SAEs.
Conscious and intentional discrimination. Such as using racial slurs, displaying racially harmful symbols, and promoting racial segregation, such as preventing children from dating outside of their race.
Microinvalidations subtly negate someone else's experiences, exclude them, invalidate their thoughts, and create an environment where marginalized or underrepresented people feel unheard. Dismissing a microaggression is a microinvalidation by saying, "It was just a joke." Another example of microinvalidation is colorblindness and pretending not to see how someone's race, ethnicity, or identity can affect their experiences and challenges.
Microinsults can be nonverbal and verbal. Often subtle, rude comments or reactions about someone's identity and background. These can be extremely harmful but are less obvious than overt insults, so victims might feel blindsided and unsure of whether it's a microaggression or not. One example of a microinsult could be insinuating someone got a raise because the company needed to fill its inclusion quota or telling someone they are "Articulate for someone with their background."
Microaggressions are often widely accepted and upheld by society. Let that sink in for a moment because this is what makes them so harmful and, unfortunately, normalized.
Microaggressions perpetuate stereotypes, reinforce systemic discrimination, and create an environment where individuals from marginalized groups continuously feel devalued and excluded. Here are some common examples. Read through them and think about whether you've heard or said any of them before.
Want to find out more? Explore this list of handouts, podcasts, and reading materials from the experts.
A visual blog confronting everyday microaggressions to show "It is a big deal."
Exploring social issues, including antiracism, microaggressions, and diversity in the workplace.
When the patient offends the learner, Daniel J. Wheeler, Josué Zapata, Denise Davis & Calvin Chou.
Scenarios and solutions for medical staff to navigate microaggressions in the medical workplace.
Resource handout for understanding microaggressions, what they are, and how they manifest.
A Parent's Guide on Race & Racism | PBS KIDS for Parents
Educational video for parents, guardians, and teachers on making classrooms more inclusive.
Educational video for students and adults talking about different experiences of microaggressions.
A presentation and guidance on delivering a presentation about microaggressions to employees and staff members.
Student-led podcast by students at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay exploring microaggressions on college campuses.
An actionable book containing sample scripts, action plans, and tools to help readers prevent subtle acts of aggression in various settings.
About the Author
Sarah Perowne is a language and education specialist with over 10 years of experience in teaching and content creation. She has worked with students of all ages in various teaching methods, including those with disabilities and ASD. She sports an acute knowledge and skillset in teaching English as a second/foreign language (ESL) English Language Arts and creating content for online teaching resources, articles, and podcasts.