In our community and others, people who are perceived as “not belonging here” are often subjected to unwanted comments or interactions that leave them feeling insulted, disrespected, or upset. The feelings they experience are real, even when no harm was intended. We call these sorts of hurtful encounters “microaggressions” when the comment or behavior relates to prejudices or stereotypes about a person whose identity is currently marginalized in our dominant culture.
The “micro” in “microaggressions” refers to the fact that these indignities are typically brief and also extremely common. Experiencing frequent microaggressions has a cumulative negative effect on health and wellbeing; it is a toll that people from marginalized groups pay repeatedly while their neighbors, colleagues, and classmates from dominant groups do not.
At the Communities That Care Coalition meeting in October 2020, CTC’s Community Outreach and Programs Associate Keyedrya Jacobs and members of CTC’s Racial Justice Workgroup led an audience of mostly white attendees through an interactive experience designed to help them recognize microaggressions and respond to them more effectively. The centerpiece of the activity was “Sh*t While People Say,“ a list of some verbal microaggressions people of color in the workgroup have experienced.
At the meeting, white attendees participated in small group conversations about statements from the list, followed by an opportunity for the people of color in attendance to speak to the whole group and answer questions. Keyedrya also shared a few examples of search results from online research she’d done about some of the microaggressions we’d discussed and encouraged us to keep learning more by researching and discussing the meanings and harmful effects of microaggressions on our own, with our families, and with our students.
To help with this, here are some additional resources for learning about microaggressions and how to respond to them:
“Dear anti-racist allies: Here’s how to respond to microaggressions,” by Kristen Rogers, for CNN/Health.
This June 2020 article unpacks common racial microaggressions, explaining what is offensive about each and providing suggestions about what to say in response.
“Why Microaggressions Aren’t So Micro,” a 2019 TedXYouth video presentation by Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy, founder and president of Undefined, an affinity group for students of color at her predominantly white high school.
“Microaggressions Are A Big Deal: How To Talk Them Out And When To Walk Away,” by Andrew Limbong for NPR.
This June 2020 audio segment and article features an interview with Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has researched and written books on the effects of microaggressions.
Where are you From?
This 2-minute YouTube video by Ken Tanaka and David Neptune uses actors to show a common microaggression and a clever response.
Public screening of this video may require licensing. For more info visit http://www.kentanakalovesyou.com/videos/