In the wake of protests across the country, it is clear that prejudice, bias, and discrimination are a lot more common than many people would like to admit. Many times, this plays out in the form of microaggressions, or indirect, often unintentional, expressions of racism, sexism, ageism, or ableism. An expert shares advice on how to confront microaggressions, whether you’re a target, bystander or perpetrator.
Malik Ali has lived his entire life hearing these everyday slights, indignities, put-downs, and insults. “I’m seeing it in every way, shape, and form, whether it's race, whether it's sexual orientation,” said Ali.
“It's a small thing, but it happens day after day and has a really large cumulative effect,” said Wendy DuBow, PhD, a Senior Social Scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She says microaggressions can have a long-lasting impact. “It makes you feel like you don't belong. It's like somebody used the expression, you know, death by a thousand cuts. I mean, that's what is going on there,” said DuBow.
Research has shown that microaggressions can lead to anger and depression and can lower work productivity and problem-solving abilities. “There's a power play going on, even if it's unconscious,” said DuBow.
So, what can you do if you are a victim of microaggression? First, decide if this a conversation you have the energy for right now. If so … discuss it. Call attention to the microaggression. Then, defuse the situation by using logic, curiosity, facts, or humor. “Microaggressions can be perpetrated by people who have really good intentions,” said DuBow.
If you are the micro aggressor … acknowledge the other person's hurt, apologize, and reflect on where the microaggression came from and how you can avoid similar mistakes in the future. “It's so baked into our society. People don't even realize what they're saying or doing,” said DuBow.
And now is the time to openly and honestly confront the problem together. “If black and white people don't sit down and talk to each other and say like, hey, this really offended me, or I had no idea that was even offensive. How then can we move forward?” said Ali.
Most people don’t even realize they may be a micro aggressor. How do you know if you are A perpetrator or have racial bias on a subconscious level? You can take a race attitude test from Harvard called Project Implicit here.