Perhaps you are wondering, “What in the heck are microaggressions and why should I care about them?”
Well let me tell you, you should care because they are hurtful and can cause serious harm.
According to Derald Sue, microaggressions are classified as brief everyday exchanges which send messages that are belittling in nature and target a specific group, such as but not limited to, persons of color, the LGBTIQA community, women, religious minorities, and persons with disabilities.
Typically, the sender of these messages doesn’t mean harm, perhaps they are unaware that what they are saying could even be taken in such a way. That being said, when someone is the target of a microaggression, they feel the sting of the comment all too sharply.
One of the more common microaggressions heard on a regular basis is, “Wow, you are so articulate,” said to someone who is non-white, most often to someone who is black or biracial. This is obviously based on the incorrect assumption that all people who are non-white are poorly educated/or can’t speak “proper” English.
When we turn on the TV, open almost any magazine, or even scroll the internet, we see oftentimes blatant as well as subtle messages being thrown at us, whether it is about race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any of the other ways we may look at culture.
Another is when a woman is in a leadership role, is assertive, or takes control of any situation, and she is referred to as “a bitch”.
As if microaggressions weren’t bad enough, we also have microinsults to deal with.
These differ from the microaggressions in that they can be either verbal or nonverbal communications that ever so subtly convey a sense of rudeness and insensitivity that specifically demean someone’s racial heritage or other aspects of their identity.
Here’s an example of what this looks like in action: An employee asks a colleague who is a person of color, “Hey, how’d you get your job?” The implication here is that the person of color may have landed said position due to affirmative action. See, it’s subtle and at the same time leaves the person receiving the message to think, “WTF, I got my job the same way you did, through hard work!”
Microinsults can vary and aren’t just about race. I remember one time I was working for a furniture store at West Towne Mall, many, many years ago. I was the only male who worked at the store and a customer who came to the store every week to see what new items had come in said to me, “You realize you only got this job because you’re a male; they had to diversify and hiring you was the easiest way.”
Now, I was maybe 19 when I worked there and I thought to myself at the time that maybe I shouldn’t have gotten the job; maybe I actually am not a good salesperson and the customer was right. I felt terrible about this and myself for quite some time, and that’s how pernicious microinsults can be.
The last element is called a microassault. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…BAM! A microassault comes right at you. What makes the microassault different from the aggression and insult is that these are blatant verbal, nonverbal, or environmental attacks intended to convey sentiments of discrimination and bias. Think historical racism and you are close.
Now that we have covered what microaggressions, microinsults, and microassaults actually are, it becomes all too easy to spot them. When we turn on the TV, open almost any magazine, or even scroll the internet, we see oftentimes blatant as well as subtle messages being thrown at us, whether it is about race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any of the other ways we may look at culture.
Here in the U.S. we have Donald Trump who is running for President of the United States on the Republican platform. As a candidate Trump has used microaggressions, insults, and micorassaults throughout his campaign and yet this candidate continues to lead in the polls. Even when Trump mocked a reporter from the New York Times who happens to have a disability, the candidate’s ratings still didn’t drop in the polls.
Clearly many people are still blind to these kinds of aggressions–but we don’t have to be.