The following blog post was written by Tahira Ebrahim, Centre Liaison Officer at the School of Global Access.
Inclusion Communiqué is a series of posts providing context to diversity and inclusion focused terminology. Content is drawn from academics and professionals in the field, with an emphasis on contextualizing terms and the narratives that surround them, rather than solely providing a limited definition. Inclusion Communiqué is meant to generate conversations on topics in the area of intercultural competence, encouraging critical analysis and thoughtful debate on the use of language and social constructs that guide our everyday lives.
“But where are you really from?”
“Wow I don’t know how you live like that.”
“So then who wears the pants in that relationship?”
None of these phrases contain vulgarity, oppressive words, or questionable terms. However, they are all forms of microaggressions. Microaggressions are defined as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” (Sue, D.W., 2010).
So why are microaggressions important to point out and address?
Microaggressions may come across as tedious for people, just another piece in the overcomplicated web of political correctness. Microaggressions though, do not exist in isolation. They are not one-off comments, rationalized with an off-handed 'you know what I mean'.
Microaggressions are defined as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults... which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership”
Microaggressions are ultimately the moments when subconscious projections are made and lay the foundation upon which sits our unconscious bias, conscious bias, and prejudice. Being aware of microaggressions may offer opportunities for us to become more aware of how we see the world, and more intimately, the people around us. The moment when we have committed a microaggression can feel like an awkward or uncomfortable one when it is pointed out to us, but it can be an educational process of seeing where our own gaps in self-awareness exist. This can include recognizing that we have limited knowledge of others, or considering that we may accept messaging from biased, political, or even entertainment-based sources as fact, and as a consequence internalize these narratives.
When we think about the nature of microaggressions, many of us would shake our heads in defiance or disbelief that we would engage in such behaviour. However, “we have been socialized into racist, sexist and heterosexist attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Much of this is outside the level of conscious awareness, thus we engage in actions that unintentionally oppress and discriminate against others” (Sue, D.W., 2010). The difficulty in being aware of a microaggression in the moment can be challenging, due to its subtlety, and can create a “psychological dilemma” (Sue et al., 2007) for both the perpetrator and the receiver, as the impact and approach may seem invisible to the perpetrator. As a result, exercising mindfulness in interactions provides a space where both the receiver feels empowered to point out the issue, while the perpetrator is also given space to process, understand, apologize, and reflect.
While addressing microaggressions can provide an opportunity for dialogue and unconscious bias, always be conscientious of an individual’s behaviour, body language, and temperament. While in some cases, a perpetrator may not be intentional and open to learning, in other cases it is best to walk away. Always assess a situation before having a difficult conversation.
Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life. American Psychologist,62(4), 271-286. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from http://world-trust.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/7-Racial-Microagressions-in-Everyday-Life.pdf
Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions: More than Just Race. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race