When a person harbors a hidden or unconscious bias, their bias may show up as verbal and/or non-verbal behavior, which, whether intentional or not, could communicate a hostile, derogatory, or negative insult aimed at a protected class. These actions may seem harmless but can be perceived as an indignity. For example, asking a Person of Color where they are “really” from may seem like an innocuous question but can sting to someone who is constantly left feeling different than “the norm.” Other examples of microaggressions are:
- Complimenting a Person of Color on their ability to speak English when English is their first language
- Playing into stereotypes about People of Color (for example, Asian American students are often stereotyped as excelling in STEM subjects)
- Saying something like “Oh that’s so gay!”
- Body language indicating discomfort around a Person of Color
Often, microaggressions are used unintentionally, but they can still lead to feelings of alienation and anger among protected classes (race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin). It is also important to note that a person belonging to a protected class can also commit a microaggression against a person belonging to another protected class. For example, a white woman can be racist, and a gay man can be sexist. No matter who you are, it is important to do your best to identify and avoid microaggressions. When we work to be understanding and compassionate, we become a more inclusive and caring community.
Tips to avoid microaggressions:
- Think before you speak. If there is a possibility that a joke will offend somebody, it might be best not to tell the joke.
- Ask yourself what you mean before implying a stereotype or using a slur. Would you say it around people who are the target of the stereotype or slur? If not, don’t say it.
- Remember that having friends that belong to a protected class doesn’t excuse you when you use slurs and other microaggressions.