Ever heard expressions like “Your English is so good” or “I don’t think of you as Black”? Welcome to the world of microaggressions. Today’s Daily Dose is all about these ever-present, pesky splinters of hostility. Read on to learn what to do if you or someone you know is experiencing these stigmatizing slights and how to put a stop to them once and for all.
Crystal Rose and Nick Fouriezos
defining the problem
1. Under the Microscope
The term “microaggression” was originally coined in the 1970s by Chester M. Pierce, a Harvard professor who first identified this type of frequent and negative — albeit unintentional, due to unconscious bias — behavior toward someone of a marginalized group. He wrote: “These [racial] assaults to Black dignity and Black hope are incessant and cumulative. Any single one may be gross. In fact, the major vehicle for racism in this country is offenses done to Blacks by whites in this sort of gratuitous never-ending way.”
2. Adding Up
Studies show that microaggressions are far more dangerous than many realize. The seemingly innocuous and sometimes unnoticed slights come at a high cost to our mental, physical and emotional health. In fact, we’re discovering that for people of color, it causes real trauma. People fed a regular diet of microaggressions display signs of depression, lack of confidence, failure to thrive, anger, helplessness and even hopelessness. We have known for a while these can lead to suicidal ideation. Psychologists like Derald Wing Sue at Columbia University are working to raise awareness about the harm done by microaggressions.
3. Is This Racist?
This behavior isn’t straight-up racism. Microaggressions constitute off-the-cuff quips and conduct that make someone feel discouraged or like an outsider for any number of traits, not just race. While the type of interactions that constitute microaggressions are not demonstrations of outright white supremacy, privilege — and especially white privilege — plays a role. They are often outside of a person’s understanding, committed without clear intention and sometimes even disguised as a compliment — as in, “Your English is so good,” said to someone whose first language is not English.
4. Consider Your Surroundings
Because microaggressions are often committed without the perpetrator being truly aware of their offenses, a lack of diversity (be it LGBTQ+, women, people of color or any marginalized group) contributes to these hurtful scenarios. That means spaces like the tech sector, which has long been accused of tolerating a “bro culture” and a lack of Black people, are an especially fertile breeding ground for this behavior. In spaces where diversity is minimal and toxic masculinity is rife, it can still be fashionable to say “That’s so gay” — a time-honored microaggression.
Moments after entering the Oval Office on Jan. 20, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden reversed the Trump administration policy that barred government groups from engaging in diversity and inclusion training — and instituted an executive order to “root out” systemic racism, beginning with all federal agencies conducting internal reviews into problem areas. Although traditional unconscious bias training has a spotty track record — sometimes even making things worse — a frank look at today’s practices could help the United States move toward solutions that work.
2. An Assist … From AI
Artificial intelligence has often disappointed equity advocates, contributing to everything from anti-female hiring discrimination to criminal racial profiling. But maybe the robots were just fixated on the wrong part of the equation. A number of AI-driven technologies are making the reporting of harassment easier and more anonymous than ever. One such tool, Spot, found that 79 percent of employees said they had witnessed harassment and discrimination at work … yet 77 percent never reported it, but told colleagues, friends or family instead. That game of telephone obviously doesn’t serve victims well, which is where AI-automated reporting could help.
3. Screw Seats: Take the Table
The oft-discussed “seat at the table” can worsen microaggressions, further isolating those who make it into the C-suite. But some companies are actively changing their policies to achieve equitable representation. The nonprofit watchdog ProPublica engages in intense transparency, annually revealing its staff demographics and efforts to push racial equity in journalism. This summer, General Motors — led by Mary Barra, the first female CEO of a major automaker — pledged $10 million for inclusion efforts and created an Inclusion Advisory Board. Meanwhile, Salesforce set new goals to double Black employees in leadership by the end of 2023 and spend $100 million purchasing from Black-owned businesses.
4. Put BIPOC in Charge
Call it instant reparations. Cities like Cincinnati are creating accelerator programs that look to buy successful seven-figure businesses from aging (often white) owners who are looking to retire … and then hand the reins over to Black and other minority CEOs. It’s similar to the way Somali immigrants are replacing retiring farmers in Maine, keeping the state’s aging agricultural economy alive. People may think twice about what they say when it might mean accidentally microaggressing the boss. Plus, Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) bosses may be more suited to create cultures of mutual respect transcending race — while also having a track record of delivering above-average results.
Hollywood legend James Brolin joins Carlos to drop wisdom on how to live life to the fullest at 80. Find out why the Amityville Horror star might have been a shampoo salesman in another life — and why he nearly stood up Barbra Streisand on the blind date that ultimately led to their long and happy marriage.
As the largest bank in the U.S., JPMorgan Chase & Co. is stepping up to foster economic opportunity and inclusion for historically marginalized communities. “Systemic racism is a tragic part of America’s history,” writes Brian Lamb, global head of diversity and inclusion at JPMorgan Chase. “It’s our responsibility to do something about it, given the role of banks in the financial health of the communities we serve.” Learn more about JPMorgan Chase’s $30 billion commitment to providing economic opportunities in underserved communities.
Justin Simien is not backing down in the face of microaggressions or racism; he’s charging through it. The creator of Dear White People sees queerness as his superpower. Wait until you see what he does with it.
Environmental microaggressions are the result of being the “only one” (of a marginalized group) in a particular space, whether at school, work or anywhere else. These also include history lessons that ignore the pivotal roles of underrepresented minorities. How to fight back? The New York Times’ 1619 Project is just one example of puncturing historical myths, along with OZY’s history podcasts Flashback and The Thread. And historically Black colleges and universities — which boast such alumni as Vice President Kamala Harris — can provide a new community for students of color.
Organizations such as Project Basta, which helps Gen Zers get through college and secure a job, are building plentiful pipelines of diversity and inclusion. The International Labour Organization echoes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by highlighting the dignity of work. Companies can try using blind recruitment and management to value people by their actions rather than their looks or name. Additionally, boot camps are being touted as a way to get underrepresented minorities more quickly trained for work.
If someone utters microaggressions, researchers recommend you let the offender know that what they said is not acceptable and, particularly in the workplace, escalate the issue by using the acronym OTFD.
Observe: Identify what you are witnessing; detail this aloud.
Think: Say why you find it’s important.
Feel: Express how you feel about this incident.
Desire: Describe what you would like to occur now.
2. Learn These Phrases
This guide by Better Allies encourages you to learn pat phrases so you’ll be ready to say something when the time comes to respond to a microaggression. One cheeky retort might be: “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you think she’s the right person to do [some low-level or administrative task]?”
If speaking up doesn’t improve the situation, you may need to change your strategy. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, many Black students at prestigious high schools decided to move their lists of complaints to Instagram, creating the movement #Blackat. All the elite GLADCHEMMS prep schools were called out, as students and alumni publicly aired discriminatory and racist experiences. And it’s not just happening at America’s elite schools: South Africa’s “Black Students Matter” movement is taking off.
Why not “Open the Front Door” on the big screen, like Ava DuVernay’s protégé Merawi Gerima. While studying film in Los Angeles, Gerima traveled home to D.C. on break. While there, he experienced microaggressions and gentrification, so he decided to write a movie about it: Residue on Netflix.
Perhaps you are the offender. The Harvard Bias Test can help you examine implicit biases with a series of questions around gender, age, weight and more. It just might open your eyes.
6. What to Do
Want to contribute to real change? This guide takes you beyond just making small changes in discrimination and inequity; it will lead you to be an equity leader. You’ll get lessons from movements that worked and learn how to use your purchasing power to effect change.