What are microaggressions?
Microaggressions are verbal, behavioral, or environmental actions (whether intentional or unintentional) that communicate hostility toward oppressed or targeted groups including people of color, women, LGBTQ persons, persons with disabilities, and religious minorities.
People may demonstrate their biases and prejudices in more subtle ways, otherwise known as microaggressions.
How different types of microaggressions affect people’s lives
Types of microaggressions
- Microassaults are overt forms of discrimination in which actors deliberately behave in discriminatory ways. They may think that their actions are not noticed or harmful. For example, when someone says, “That’s so gay!” to connote that something is weird, the person is aware of the words that they choose; however, they may not realize that using such language is considered offensive.
- Microinsults are statements or behaviors in which individuals unconsciously communicate discriminatory messages to members of target groups. For example, a person might tell an Asian American that they “speak good English”, implying that Asian Americans do not speak good English. This instance can be specially upsetting to Asian Americans who do not speak any other language besides English.
- Microinvalidations are verbal statements that deny, negate, or undermine the realities of members of target groups. For example, when a person tells a person of color that racism does not exist, that person is invalidating and denying the person of color’s racial reality.
Check out a Microaggression Guide here!
Hands-on guide to strategies, approaches, and interventions to address microaggressions
Responding to microaggressions and bias (printable version)
Be Prepared. Practice with a friend!
RESTATE OR PARAPHRASE
“I think I heard you saying____________ (paraphrase their comments). Is that correct?”
ASK FOR CLARIFICATION OR MORE INFORMATION
“Could you say more about what you mean by that?”
“How have you come to think that?”
ACKNOWLEDGE THE FEELINGS BEHIND THE STATEMENT
Express empathy and compassion.
“It sounds like you’re really frustrated/nervous/angry……..”
“I can understand that you’re upset when you feel disrespected.”
SEPARATE INTENT FROM IMPACT
“I know you didn’t realize this, but when you __________ (comment/behavior), it was hurtful/offensive because___________. Instead you could___________ (different language or behavior.)”
SHARE YOUR OWN PROCESS
“I noticed that you ___________ (comment/behavior). I used to do/say that too, but then I learned____________.”
EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS
“When you _____________ (comment/behavior), I felt ____________ (feeling) and I would like you to________________.”
CHALLENGE THE STEREOTYPE
Give information, share your own experience and/or offer alternative perspectives.
“Actually, in my experience__________________.”
“I think that’s a stereotype. I’ve learned that___________________.”
“Another way to look at it is _________________.”
APPEAL TO VALUES AND PRINCIPLES
“I know you really care about _________. Acting in this way really undermines those intentions.”
Ask how they would feel if someone said something like that about their group, or their friend/partner/child.
“I know you don’t like the stereotypes about ______ (their group), how do you think he feels when he hears those things about his group?”
“How would you feel if someone said that about/did that to your sister or girlfriend?”
TELL THEM THEY’RE TOO SMART OR TOO GOOD TO SAY THINGS LIKE THAT
“Come on. You’re too smart to say something so ignorant/offensive.”
PRETEND YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND
As people try to explain their comments, they often realize how silly they sound.
“I don’t get it…….”
“Why is that funny?
Exaggerate comment, use gentle sarcasm.
“She plays like a girl?” You mean she plays like Serena Williams?” Or Mia Hamm?
POINT OUT WHAT THEY HAVE IN COMMON WITH THE OTHER PERSON
“I’m tired of hearing your Muslim jokes. Do you know he’s also studying ______
and likes to _________? You may want to talk with him about that. You actually have a lot in common.”
W.I.I.F.T. (What’s in it for them)
Explain why diversity or that individual/group can be helpful/valuable.
“I know you’re not comfortable with _____ but they can help us reach out to/better serve other groups on campus/in the community.”
“In the real world, we are going to have to work with all sorts of people, so might as well learn how to do it here.”
REMIND THEM OF THE RULES OR POLICIES
“That behavior is against our code of conduct and could really get you in trouble.”
- Nadal, K. L. (2014). A guide to responding to microaggressions. In CUNY Forum (Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 71-76).
- Goodman, D. (2011). Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating People from Privileged Groups. New York: Routledge. Excerpt available at www.dianegoodman.com