Microaggressions are referred to as such because they often happen in small, private instances, sometimes without a second thought from the perpetrator. Whether it’s a person of colour being mistaken for a waiter in a restaurant, or a lesbian couple being asked ‘who is the man in your relationship?’ these microaggressions are so commonplace in society, that they often go ignored.
So subtle are these slights or snubs, that sometimes the victim doesn’t even realise they have been on the receiving end of one. The effects, however, are anything but minute, with studies showing that these everyday (yet often unrecognisable) attacks can lead to self-doubt, depression and social isolation.
What to do if you experience a microaggression
Many people from marginalised groups will experience microaggressions everyday, but there are steps you can take to gain control of the situation. Nobody should have to deal with a constant stream of snubs or slights, so here are some suggestions of what you can do:
Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve heard, what it meant and how you want to proceed. You do not have to take immediate action, and you may even want to ask the person to repeat their words or actions for clarification. Take your time and decide how you will react, if at all, later. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and safe when raising these issues.
Consider your approach
If you think the best way to deal with the incident is through a conversation, think first about what you would like the outcome to be. The ideal end result would be an apology and a lesson learnt, but this is not always possible if the offender becomes defensive. You should never accept responsibility, but your approach can lead the direction of the conversation.
Share the impact
Microaggressors are often unaware of the impact of their actions. Help them understand by sharing how their behaviour affected you. Letting them know how their behaviour made you feel will hopefully open their minds, and encourage them to further educate themselves.
Being a victim of prejudice can be lonely. Just because you have addressed the issue with the perpetrator, does not mean you will feel instantly better. Ensure you are able to confide and seek support from someone you feel you can trust and be open with.
How you can conquer your own microaggressions
When it comes to matters of prejudice, it is not the responsibility of a person from a marginalised community to educate the world or even one person about how to become more socially aware.
If you think you’ve used microaggressions before, it’s important to own your mistakes and missteps, and expose yourself to what makes you uncomfortable. Here are a few things that will help you along your way:
If someone tells you that you have offended them, don’t become defensive; listen. Don’t assume that acknowledgement of your mistake means you are admitting to being a morally bad person. It’s important to remember that just because the perpetrator of a microaggression is clueless (or in denial) about the impact of their words, it doesn’t mean the impact is changed or any less violent. Intention is irrelevant. Seek to understand how you can prevent this from happening in the future.
This may seem like the obvious response when someone tells you that you have done or said something offensive, but the type of apology you make is also important. Phrases like “sorry if you were offended by that” or “it was only a joke” invalidate the person’s feelings and opinions. Avoid playing down your mistakes in order to make yourself feel better, taking responsibility for your actions acknowledges any hurt caused, even if unintentional.
Once you’ve had a conversation about the incident and understood its impact, it’s important to move on. Rehashing it won’t help. If you are still unsure of what you can do to prevent further microaggressions occurring, try exploring the meaning of microaggressions and the harm they can cause.
The best way you can confront your biases is to spend time reading, watching, or listening to content that will open your mind to different people, with ideas different from your own.
For more reading on matters of diversity and inclusion, head here.