Microaggression is a term you’ve probably been hearing a lot more of lately, thanks to its recent resurgence in widespread usage. It got so popular that it was even named the word of the year by the Global Language Monitor in 2015. However, it’s a phrase coined by Harvard University psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce in the 1970s. The word characterizes the subtle insults and dismissals that non-black Americans commonly delivered to African American people.
The definition of microaggression has evolved slightly in recent years. It now encompasses subtle, casual, and sometimes unintended statements, acts, and behaviors that indicate biased sentiments toward historically oppressed groups of people without causing harm.
Microaggressions can occur in various settings, including our schools, social circles, and are widespread at workplaces. Even the elderly fall victim to these subtle acts. Luckily, inclusive communities and professionals in hospices and home care services can make them feel safe and accepted, among others. So how can you spot an insult, insensitive remark, or act when they’re so subtle?
According to Kevin Nadal, a psychology professor at John Jay College, everyone has innate biases that you don’t realize you’re getting or even inflicting on others. He went on to say that just because microaggression is “micro,” it doesn’t imply that the subtle prejudices we’re talking about won’t have real and harmful implications. So, how can microaggressions be identified?
Microaggression can take numerous forms, some so subtle that they go unnoticed. For example, when an Asian earns praise for speaking superb English despite being born and reared in the United States. Or when someone tells an African American lady she is too fair-skinned to be considered a person of color. Or when a transwoman is informed she has the appearance of a real woman. Or when a Latino minds their own business but some women clutch their handbags and pearl necklaces closer to them.
Some might claim that people are becoming overly sensitive and have joined the “snowflakes” bandwagon to call these instances microaggressions. However, this is not the case, as these subtle suggestions of prejudice and bias are detrimental, making those subjected to them feel uneasy. And given how hard everyone else is trying to make the world a better place, it’s time to call out microaggressions as what they are.
How Can You Detect Microaggression?
It might be more challenging to detect and call these things out if you’re in your office, where you must be professional. So what is the best course of action to deal with when you experience them?
Before deciding how to handle microaggressions, it’s critical to understand how to spot them. Microaggressions can take three forms: behavioral, verbal, and environmental microaggressions. Here’s how those three compare:
- Verbal microaggressions are rude and stigmatizing comments or queries. It’s when a male coworker tells a female coworker that she’s too intelligent for a woman.
- Behavioral microaggressions are insensitive or discriminatory actions that assume stereotypes are correct. It’s when a non-white coworker is mistaken for a service worker or when an Asian coworker is thought to be strong at math.
- Environmental microaggressions happen when there is a lack of representation and diversity in society. It occurs when people of other ethnicities are excluded from executive positions or when disabled-friendly facilities are unavailable.
Dealing With Microaggressions in the Workplace
If you’re the victim of microaggressions, there are various options available to you. Here are a few examples:
- For the time being, you can ignore it: It’s not always worth it, and allowing microaggressions to pass might appear to be the wisest course of action because dealing with them can be emotionally and mentally tiring.
- You can deal with it right away: This allows you to examine the details and implications of such cruel actions while everyone still remembers the incident. If the other party is open-minded enough to listen, this reaction might allow their behavior to be corrected.
- You can deal with it later: It’s sometimes preferable to wait until you’ve calmed down after being hurt by a microaggression before saying anything. You can also wait for the perfect time by talking about it privately, through email, or at a later time.
Even though the world is increasingly receptive to candid talks and discussions about microaggressions, the changes everyone wants to see in society where these things are acceptable will take time. While you should start a proper conversation about it, the decision to speak up about it is totally up to you. Just keep in mind that if you want to stop microaggressions, you’ll need to take action against it.