*Content warning: This blog post will discuss bias towards historically marginalized groups, providing examples of microaggressions experienced by these individuals.
Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, defines microaggressions as “everyday, subtle, and oftentimes unintentional interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups”. It’s important to note that microaggressions can be intentional, just like macroaggresions (which we usually refer to as discrimination or oppression), but often they’ve become so ingrained into a society or culture that they aren’t noticed or even known to be offensive. And don’t be fooled just because the word ‘micro’ is the prefix - these offenses are anything but. They can cause anywhere from casual annoyance to severe depression and trauma in individuals depending on the frequency, severity, and cause of the aggression. Microaggressions can happen anywhere and be committed by anyone. They can be said about any number of personal identity markers or traits such as race, sexuality, income, body image or weight, religion, etc.
Here are some examples of common microaggressions*:
- “I’m not racist. I have black friends.” → Someone can still be racist with friends of color.
- “You don't sound black.” → Here the offensive suggestion is being made that a person should sound like something because of their color/race/ethnicity.
- “That’s gay.” → Here, being or seeming, gay is being equated to being bad.
- The use of ‘he/she’ in writing, or the argument that ‘they’ can’t be a singular pronoun → Using he/she is still excluding certain genders and gender pronouns, and arguing that ‘they’ is not grammatically correct in the singular tense is simply factually false.
- “I just don’t support that lifestyle.” → Here the speaker is assuming that being queer is a choice, when it is actually a natural part of who someone is.
Examples on the topic of fitness , nutrition, and wellness
- Saying “I don’t eat ____ it’s so unhealthy.” when someone is eating _____ → The implication could be that the person eating said food is also unhealthy. A moral judgment on food is given.
- “Someone like you shouldn’t wear something so revealing.” → Making the assumption that someone is unhealthy based on their body size and that only certain clothing can be worn by certain people.
How and Why Do Microaggressions Happen?
Ultimately, microaggressions are due to a systemic and foundational lack of intersectional education at a nationwide level. When we don’t learn about people different from ourselves, we never learn how to positively interact with other behaviors, cultures, and identities. Microaggressions feed into a system of ignorance and mistreatment or harm of others, and they reflect a lack of understanding or respect for an individual’s lived experiences.
Just a Few Effects
Family, friends and community can sometimes be perpetrators of the microaggressions, and less time may be spent with them because of this. They can also lessen involvement in school, work and volunteering due to stress or anxiety about possible microaggressions or simply the traumatic knowledge that one will be seen incorrectly and this could have dangerous consequences. The Harvard Gazette says microaggressions cause an "onslaught of injuries to the psyche that may seem unrelenting and can result in everything from depression, fatigue, and anger to physical ailments such as chronic infections, thyroid problems, and high blood pressure."
What Can You Do?
Make sure to always listen to others with an open perspective and be willing to hear ideas, opinions, and experiences that might be different or even in conflict with your own. This will allow for a more deeper sense of understanding and empathizing to occur, and hopefully lead to a stronger connection between individuals. You can also search out research and biographies or personal experiences that have been offered to learn more about what experiencing microaggressions and living as a member of a marginalized community feels like (but don’t just go ask your friend that you know is gay or black - we don’t want to burden someone who hasn’t offered with the need to educate us). As cliché as it sounds, remember the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.