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What is Microaggression?

Wing Tsang

Microaggressions are a form of subtle and often unconscious discrimination that people experience daily. These are brief and commonplace verbal, nonverbal, or environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate derogatory messages to individuals based on their membership in a marginalised group. The term was introduced by Psychiatrist and Harvard University Professor Chester M Pierce in 1970.

Photo by hao wang on Unsplash

Microaggressions are often a result of deeply ingrained social attitudes that many people are not even aware they hold. While they may seem minor to those who commit them, they can have a cumulative and significant impact on the mental health and well-being of individuals who experience them regularly.

There are three types of microaggressions: microinsults, micro-assaults, and microinvalidations.

Microinsults are subtle remarks or actions that convey insulting messages to people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or another characteristic. Micro-assaults are deliberate acts of discrimination or hostility, such as racial slurs or discriminatory behaviour, while microinvalidations are actions that negate the experiences and feelings of marginalised individuals.

Spotting microaggressions can be challenging, as they are often subtle and easy to overlook. However, some common examples of microaggressions include the following:

  • Making assumptions about someone's background or culture based on their appearance or name

  • Interrupting or talking over someone who is speaking

  • Using language that implies that a particular group is inferior or less competent than others

  • Ignoring or dismissing the contributions or perspectives of people from marginalised groups

  • Making jokes or comments that are derogatory towards a particular group

  • Staring or giving unwarranted attention to someone because of their appearance or perceived difference.

Here are some steps to increase your knowledge about microaggression:

  1. Educate yourself: It's essential to educate yourself about the experiences of marginalised groups and the issues they face. Understanding the impact of microaggressions is critical to avoiding them.

  2. Practice active listening: Be aware of how you communicate and listen to others. Avoid interrupting or talking over people and show respect for their experiences and opinions.

  3. Be aware of your biases: We all have tendencies, and it's essential to recognise and acknowledge them. Identifying your preferences can help you avoid making microaggressions.

What can you do when confronted with or witnessed others experiencing microaggression?

If you are experiencing or witness someone making a microaggression, it is essential to speak up and address it, as silence can be seen as an endorsement of such behaviour, so it's crucial to challenge it when it happens (please ensure you are in a safe environment).

In conclusion, microaggressions can significantly impact people's lives and mental health and often go unnoticed. We can create a more inclusive and respectful society by being aware of them and taking steps to prevent them.

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