It’s just a fact of life that you are going to come into contact with people who are different than you. Whether it be at school or in the workplace, you will inevitably end up talking to someone whose background isn’t the same as yours. Naturally, you will want to get to know each other, which is great. However, you may run the risk of committing a microaggression.
What is a Microaggression?
A microaggression can be described as covert or unintentional discrimination. They are words and actions that marginalize certain groups of people, even if it is unintentional. The main issue with microaggressions is that even though they may be minor offenses, they can add up quickly and seriously damage one’s self-image and make them feel as though they do not belong. Often, microaggressions manifest themselves in seemingly innocent ways whose impacts are not apparent unless their underlying implications are thought about.
Examples of Microaggressions and Implications
- “Where are you from?” “The Twin Cities” “No, where are you REALLY from?”
- The implication is that the second person is being identified as a foreigner and not as the group they choose to be identified with. If you are wondering about someone’s ethnic or racial identity, there are better ways of going about that.
- “Can I touch your hair?”
- The implication is that the body of the person who’s being asked is exotic and a target of curiosity, which is degrading. I’m sure the awkwardness of the situation outweighs the satisfaction of your curiosity.
- “Oh, you’re Latino?! Do you know (random person)?!”
- Not all (Latinx/Black/Asian/Native American/Queer/Muslim/etc.) people know each other. Assuming that they do gives the implication that their group is small and lacks diversity.
- (When speaking to a person of color) “Say something in (foreign language)”
- This implies that all people of color know a second language, which is not true. Worse, it implies that POCs are trained animals that will respond to your whims.
- (When speaking to a POC) “You are so articulate”.
- This implies that POCs are uneducated and unable to make intelligent conversation.
- Blatantly using the wrong pronoun
- Yes, mistakes happen, but if you know someone’s preferred pronouns, please use them. Mis-pronouning someone implies that you do not accept them for who they are, or at best, you do not care to listen to them.
- The implication is that you see women as sex objects that only exist more male enjoyment.
- “That’s so gay!”
- The implication is that being gay is a negative characteristic.
How to Avoid Microaggressions
In my opinion, the keys to avoiding microaggressions are recognition and reflection. You must recognize when your words or actions, intentional or not, have a negative effect on others. You must also reflect on how you can improve your behavior and become more inclusive. As a general rule, if you are curious about a certain aspect of someone’s life, such as their racial identity or any conditions they may have, get to know them. If they wish to tell you about themselves, they can do so on their own terms. It may also be helpful to ask yourself why you want to know about that aspect. Is it to get to know the person better? Or, is it based on sheer curiosity?
Ultimately, modifying behavior is a personal act that you must figure out yourself, but I think self-awareness is a good starting point. With this information, you can do your part to make your classroom or workspace more inclusive and welcoming to all people.
Of Possible Interest:
- Diversity – all of our blog posts on the topic
- Cultural Competency and Professionalism
- Embracing My Self-Identity in the Workplace
Photo Source: Unsplash | Michal Grosicki