Understanding the Impacts of ‘Micro-Aggression’
Freddimir Garcia | May 15, 2023
Have you ever heard someone pose these comments or questions? Or maybe you have made similar comments yourself. If so, did it make you feel a bit uneasy or did you experience some pushback?
Asking someone with an accent, where they are from, assuming they are not American.
Saying, “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”
Asking someone with a physical disability what happened to them?
These are forms of microaggressions—brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities that can be intentional or unintentional. They can communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative insults to an individual or group because of their marginalized status in society. When we don’t address them, we tend to isolate people and create environments of exclusion. Marginalizing people in such a way, even unintentionality, can cause people to feel unsafe, unengaged, and not fully invested in the organization’s mission.
Microaggressions, in a sense, are a result of implicit/unconscious bias. We hold stereotypes of people that lead to us making levels of assumptions that can have long-lasting effects on them.
If we break microaggressions down, there are three types to consider: microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidation. Microassaults are conscious and intentional discriminatory actions, such as displaying white supremacist symbols. Microinsults refer to subtly conveying rudeness that demeans a person’s identity, like assuming someone isn’t American due to an accent. Microinvalidation is defined as communication that negates an experiential reality of another group or person. An example is mistaking people from the same race.
It’s totally understandable for people to be struggling with these concepts. However, think about the person receiving the microaggression. What if it isn’t the first time this week, or the first time today, or the first time at this meeting? The reality is that microaggressions aren’t about you, but the one suffering. The way we begin to rectify the situations is to differentiate between INTENT vs IMPACT.
We judge ourselves on our intent and we judge others on their impact. The way in which we begin to improve as people is not by covering the mistake (focus on intent) but rather recovering from them (focus on impact). The first step to moving forward is being responsible for creating an environment where we can all thrive, support, and flourish with each other.
Please keep in mind that people experience microaggressions regularly, at times multiple times a day, and what may seem like an angry response might be justified by their experience. Keep aware, thoughtful, and positive in all interactions and decisions and avoid assuming without asking.
If you inflict a microaggression, consider the following: resist the urge to defend yourself, genuinely apologize, thank them for the opportunity to grow and learn, and don’t expect anything in return.
If you experience a microaggression, express your feelings, rephrase what you heard/experienced, separate intent versus impact, and involve others when possible.