What are they?

-  Coined by Dr Chester Pierce, a black man, and Harvard Professor. He was studying the stigmatizing representation of Black people in television. He defined it as “subtle, stunning often automatic and non-verbal exchange which are put downs of Black people”. 
-  The concept has now been expanded and highlights derogatory slights or insults directed towards person or persons who are members of an oppressed group, (Women, People of Colour (PoC), People with Disabilities, People from the LGBTQI+ communicates).  Whether intentional or unintentional, they communicate hostile or negative insults towards these groups through verbal/non-verbal gestures. E.g. Racial microaggressions often automatically and unconsciously directed toward an individual(s) due to their identities. 
How to identify them?

1)  Microassault (Intentional)

- Explicit derogations characterized primarily by a verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name calling, avoidant behaviour, or purposeful discriminatory practices. It is often an ‘old fashioned’ racism conducted on an individual/private (micro) level.
 Verbal à Referring to someone as ‘coloured’ or ‘oriental’. Non-Verbal e.g. refusing to sit next to a visibly Muslim woman in a public transport.
2)  Microinsult 

- Characterized by communications that ‘convey’ rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s (racial) heritage or identity. They are often subtle snubs frequently unknown to the perpetrator but clearly convey a hidden insulting message to the recipient.
 Verbal à Asking a PoC ‘Where are you really from’? 
 Non-Verbal à In meetings, dismissing a woman’s opinions and not acknowledging what they have to say.
3)  Microinvalidation 

- Characterized by communications that exclude, negate or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of an individual
 E.g. ‘I don’t see colour’ – the effect is to negate the experiences of PoC and minimizing the impact of societal barriers. 

Common Myths:

“The definition of Microaggression is cloudy; people can use this to victimize themselves.” 

These comments often are an attempt to deny the experiences of oppressed groups of the world they live in. Often, this is used as a defence mechanism when the perpetrator is called out on their behaviour, and therefore tries to make an excuse for their actions.

“It is an attack on Freedom of Speech. People are becoming too ‘PC’ and need to understand a joke.”

The term Microaggression has historical connotations. It is often used to confront languages that erase historical meaning. For instance, ‘I’m really OCD about the ramps in my workplace look’. – This is a form of ableist language, which often trivializes or makes light of a serious health condition. As Tiffany Alvoid highlights in their Ted Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPqVit6TJjw) it is important that we take notice of these words that are thrown so passively because it often makes light of and erases ‘the historical exclusion that people with disability face. 

“But I really don’t see colour. Everyone is the same to me so I don’t see any wrong in saying that.” In addition, “I’m not racist, my friends are Black/Brown.”

This is often used to deny a person of colour’s racial ethnic experiences and denies their racial/cultural being. It denies the very root issues of many problems that People of Colour face in the society we all live in. In addition, the proximity with people of colour does not mean you will/haven’t made any racist comments, nor does it now make you immune to being a racist. This is again used as defence mechanism to shield the perpetrator from any blame. It shuts down these conversations, prevents the perpetrator unlearning their harmful behaviour and allows stereotypes to thrive and it often is us. 


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