Become a Patron!

LISTEN HERE (Support this project at patreon.com/AfricanElements)

What Are Microaggressions?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are hard topics to navigate. Although not a lot of people show their prejudice openly, that doesn’t mean we’re done with prejudice. 

A subtler form of prejudice, called microaggressions, is growing rampant instead.

Although it’s often unintentional, microaggressions happen daily and leave a strong impact on those experiencing it.

These small experiences snowball quickly into hurt feelings, conflicts, and eventually lead to a toxic culture in your workplace. MIcroaggressions affect a person’s physical health as well as their mental health. After experiencing daily microaggressions, being dismissed when they spoke up, and even being told they are overreacting, the kind of damage to their overall health and performance is understandable.

Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these insults often aren’t aware that they’ve slighted someone. They might even think they’ve done a good deed by giving compliments or being considerate.

According to SurveyMonkey, over 60% of employees in the US have experienced or witnessed microaggression before.

Even if the underrepresented expressed discomfort, they’re brushed off with a simple remark dismissing their feelings, such as, “It was just a joke.” or “I didn’t mean it that way.”

Sound familiar?

Then you might have faced microaggression, or maybe even be a perpetrator at one point.

In this article, we’ll cover more about microaggressions, and what you should do when you’ve experienced, or even took part in, microaggression.

Types of Microaggressions

There are three types of common microaggressions.

Behavioral Microaggressions

Behavioral microaggression stems from someone harboring unconscious biases against marginalized groups. They might not even realize it themselves, but their behavior shows insensitivity towards a certain stereotype, which makes it insulting.

For example, a white employee may tense up whenever left alone with a black colleague. They might not even realize it, but they get a little more defensive just in case the person attacks or attempts a crime. They have no evidence that the black person or any other person of color they are in a room with is violent or has criminal tendencies. However, they’re still wary because of the unconscious stereotype they have held against a certain race.

Another example is when you expect a woman to do the housekeeping around the office, making coffee, or even cleaning up, even if it’s not in her job description.

Environmental Microaggressions

Common microaggressions related to the environment often stem from the lack of diversity around the workplace, including gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Unlike behavioral microaggression, environmental microaggressions happen and are reflected in society instead of being done by one specific person. Often this manifests as a lack of diversity or inequity within an organization.

For example, some organizations name every room in the office after white men.

Another example is when there’s no person of color on an organization’s management team. You can even mention that anyone can get the position as long as they are diligent enough, even though your colleagues work as hard as you do. 

These kinds of racial microaggressions within your work environment make employees with different demographics think about their value within the company and make them feel like they lack a sense of belonging.

Verbal Microaggressions

Verbal microaggression is when someone speaks insensitively about a marginalized group. This might be done accidentally, or they might be intentionally bad-mouthing a marginalized group. Even if it was meant as a compliment, these comments might be slights to the person on the receiving end.

For example, a person can ask an Asian-American about their first language, even though they were born and raised in the United States. Another example is calling an African-American or Latinx person “one of the good ones,” which implies that their race or group usually has bad influences.

These kinds of insensitive remarks are the easiest to shrug off as perpetrators probably don’t even realize their biases when speaking.

Examples of Microaggressions

Microaggressions happen in all shapes and forms, but here are three common examples of microaggression.

Microassaults are blatant and intentional aggressions, intending to discredit marginalized groups. This might come in the form of put-downs or bullying.

For example, if your co-worker is being avoided and often the topic of gossip around the office because of their disabilities, you have a case of microassault on your hands.

Microassaults can also come in the form of behavioral or environmental aggression, such as putting up drawings or posters with a swastika, or a Confederate flag around the office space.

Microinsults, although often unconscious and covert, are still hurtful. They demean a person’s identity through insensitive comments that use a stereotype of the marginalized group.

The perpetrator, unfortunately, is often unaware that they are being offensive since they are trying to throw a compliment, or sometimes advice, at you.

For example, a coworker mentioned how unexpected it is that you are so good at sports because you are gay. Or a manager, unaware that this is a form of sexism, advises that you smile more and be more “agreeable,” just because you’re a woman.

Microinvalidations often happen when someone doesn’t experience the same things as the underrepresented and dismisses the marginalization in the first place.

As an example, a company with mainly white male executives said that the positions are all decided purely through merit. This dismisses the fact that minorities had a disadvantage for years with unfavorable bias working against them.

A simpler and more common example is when someone says that they “don’t see color.” Although the intention might be unifying, this dismisses everyone else’s history, ethnicity, and experiences.

Addressing Microaggressions

Microaggressions, mostly the unconscious kind, happen daily. If you were mindful of what you said in a day, you might even find yourself about to utter a phrase or two that can be considered a microinsult or microinvalidation. Here’s what to do when you are faced with microaggression, whether you are the victim or the perpetrator.

If you have received microaggressions

Your first instinct might be to just let the insult roll off your back.

It’s not worth it, you think.

And you quietly label the person you were talking to as a bad person, thinking that is just how they are.

However, know that sometimes confrontations are necessary. These microaggressions will keep happening, tiring you out as you interact more and more with the perpetrator.

So know that you can speak up and let them know what they said wasn’t okay.

Refrain from the urge to lash out. Instead, prepare to communicate with your coworker to explain why what they just said is an insult to you. Be professional, even if they’re not.

If things are going downhill, you can always look to someone in your HR team to mediate for you. They are trained in things like this. Plus, smoothing out misunderstandings and mediating conflicts is part of their job description.

If you have committed microaggressions

In the end, what matters most is how you react after someone pointed out that you have been ignorant. Will you throw a tantrum and say that you have a black/Latinx/LGBTQ friend to escape the responsibility for your actions? Or will you stop and try to understand why you said something wrong?

If you have received complaints of microaggression, it is best if you recognize that you have unconscious biases and that marginalized groups face unique challenges.

When someone stops you and points out a microaggression, acknowledge your ignorance, apologize, and try to study up on how you can be better.

However, remember that the burden to educate yourself falls on you, not on the one who pointed out your microaggression, your company, or anyone else.

If they are willingly informing you of what you did wrong, take that information graciously and take this time to reflect on your unconscious biases.

Overcome Microaggressions in the Workplace With Inspired eLearning

Microaggressions are a complicated problem that has permeated not just the corporate world, but society in general.

The problem becomes even more complicated when you are part of several marginalized groups (for example, a black woman who is also part of the LGBTQ community). The amount of microaggressions that she faces every day is enormous, which might affect both her performance at work and her personal life.

Either way, nobody is perfect. People make mistakes, but what matters most is how you react after you made the mistake.

To eliminate microaggressions and harassment from your workplace, there needs to be a continuous effort from both supervisors, team members, and the HR department.

If you feel like your employees might need more enlightenment in diversity, inclusion, and equality, consider signing up for our HR training programs. Let’s talk and we can find the right balance of courses for you and your team.

This content was originally published here.

Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: