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Microaggressions are seemingly harmless comments, typically intended as jokes or even compliments. They usually come from people with the purest intentions; nonetheless, they betray the speaker’s implicit prejudice and can cause a lot of harm over time. Colorblind podcast host Vanessa Echols and her panel of experts discuss what exactly microaggressions are, why they hurt and how to stop them.
- Microaggressions are casual comments and actions that reveal the prejudiced way people see certain groups.
- Constructive responses to microaggressions include turning awkward situations into opportunities to make people aware of their unconscious bias.
- Microaggressions hurt individuals, affect company culture and can have costly side effects within your firm.
- If you care about creating an inclusive environment, take people’s sensitivities seriously.
Microaggressions are casual comments and actions that reveal the prejudiced way people see certain groups.
Microaggressions can take the shape of a compliment, honest interest or subtle gestures. For example, bank customers might commend the Hispanic banker on her English language skills although she’s from New York, others may ask the Muslim-American wearing a hijab where she’s really from and people in traffic might lock their cars when a black man passes. Independently, these gestures seem inconsequential, some even well-meaning. Collectively, however, they signal that people of certain races, religions, and other identities don’t belong and betray an underlying bias that perpetuates pre-existing disparities in areas like employment, incarceration and housing. Most individuals instigate microaggressions in some areas and suffer from their effects in others.
“If I know you’re a racist…I know how to deal with you. But if you are a colleague or a friend and you say or physically act out a microaggression, that’s a very different conversation, and people get defensive about it.”
Even how the public treats the opioid epidemic compared with how society dealt with crack cocaine problems is a form of microaggression. The opioid epidemic mainly affects white populations and is treated as a mental health crisis, while predominantly black people were thrown into jail for their crack addictions in the 1980s and 1990s.
Constructive responses to microaggressions include turning awkward situations into opportunities to make people aware of their unconscious bias.
Microaggressions’ inherent subtleness makes pointing them out difficult. Nonetheless, try to turn them into teachable moments to help people become aware of their biases. Take the time to explain why a remark is prejudiced or hurtful. Sometimes a witty response will do, but avoid embarrassing the offender. Especially in the workplace, consider mentioning the issue in private or sending a polite email. Note that calling people “prejudiced” may lead to pushback, as people reject that label. Proactively acknowledge your own biases, and be grateful if people help you see your own unconscious missteps.
Microaggressions hurt individuals, affect company culture and can have costly side effects within your firm.
Microaggressions can hamper people’s opportunities and contribute to hostile work environments, which can cause problems in terms of retention, productivity, morale or team cohesion. Swallowing insults over a period of time leads to stress and can cause mental health issues. People may also start believing the misconceptions about them: One study showed that, if researchers reminded women of stereotypes regarding women’s inferior math skills, the women scored lower on standardized tests.
If you care about creating an inclusive environment, take people’s sensitivities seriously.
If you’ve unintentionally insulted someone through your microaggressive behavior, acknowledge that you caused hurt and refrain from lecturing that person on why they shouldn’t be offended. For every single person who brings up a concern, there’s more people who didn’t despite feeling the same. Recognizing your own biases offers a way to move beyond them. Workshops and seminars can help your team become more aware that well-meaning remarks may be discriminatory.
About the Podcast
For her Colorblind: Race Across Generations podcast, journalist Vanessa Echols invites experts to loosely structured discussions on race issues. For this episode, her guests are Valencia College adjunct professor Hank Van Putten, Rollins College study abroad coordinator Mary Robinson and University of Central Florida diversity and inclusion facilitator Rachel Luce-Hitt.
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