What is a microaggression?

The psychologist Kevin Nadal defines microaggressions as:

“The everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalised groups.”

“The difference between microaggressions and overt discrimination or macroaggressions is that people who commit microaggressions might not even be aware of them.”

The concept was first introduced in the 1970s by Black psychiatrist Chester Pierce.

Dr Jummy Okoya, the associate programme leader for MSc human resource management at the University of East London, further explains to us that there are three different types of microaggressions.

Micro-assault: This is often an obvious form of microaggression, whereby the perpetrator intentionally behaves in a discriminatory or offensive way towards an individual or marginalised group, such as telling a racist joke and insisting, “it was just a joke”.

Micro-insult: This is usually a subtle act of discriminatory behaviour or comments against an individual or marginalised group by singling someone out to belittle or make them feel uncomfortable. 

For example, someone may comment inappropriately on a person’s appearance or speak over them during Zoom meetings.

Micro-invalidation: This form of microaggression demeans or invalidates the experience of an individual or marginalised group. This could be by claiming “I don’t see colour” or “They didn’t mean like that” AND “I don’t mean to sound racist but…”

The emphasis on the micro is that it’s so small it leaves you questioning “Did that really happen?” or some work cultures refer to it as paper cuts. 

One may not feel bad but over time, if one isn’t careful they will need a bandage to stop the bleeding if not addressed properly.

Want to know more? We delve into microaggressions and it’s cousin Casual Racism in our book “I Don’t Mean to Sound Racist But… Examining the Different Faces of Racism” out now.

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