What are microaggressions?
“Brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to a target group, such as people of color, religious minorities, women, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals” (Sue, 2010, 2017; Sue Capodilupo, et al., 2007).
Before you read the testimonies of individuals’ who have experienced microaggressions, I want you to understand that everyone participates in acts of microaggressions. You might read some of these testimonies and feel angry, upset, defensive, or even deny them happening to others. But, I encourage you to read these with the perspective of others in mind. Microaggressions have a detrimental impact upon marginalized groups, and it is important to address and admit to our own unconscious biases so that we can personally stop microaggressions. Also, I want you to keep in mind that these testimonies are not just a one and done experience. Individuals of marginalized groups experience microaggressions every day, and when I asked them to share their stories, they all started with, “Oh so many. Where do I begin…”
Here are examples of individual experiences of microaggressions,
A Muslim female shared that others have said, “Oh you speak perfect English, or like you have no accent when you talk.” She said it makes her feel, “Like I must be a foreigner when I wear a hijab or something.”
A Black male said, “I had to put baby wipes and a stuffed animal in the back seat of my car even though I don’t have a child, so that when another police officer pulls me over when I come home late from work, I look like a family man.”
A Black male talking about his dating experiences, ““You’re not like the rest.” And, “My family would accept you.”
An Asian male reported his friend saying, “That’s not very Asian of you” when he ruined a batch of homemade dumplings.
A White female shared, “Your last name is Spanish, and you don’t speak fluent Spanish?”
A Latina female shared her experience with a co-worker, “Oh, you’re a teacher at this school? I thought you were a substitute teacher this whole time.”
A White female said, “People assume I am a lesbian because I don’t put in a lot of effort into my appearance.”
A transgender male has been asked, “Did something terrible happen to you in your childhood?”
A female who is blind said, “I was working at a deli taking a man’s food order with my face close to the notepad when he told me that I should just buy glasses so I don’t have to look so closely.”
A female American-Arab Muslim shared, “In college I had to submit a draft of my paper just so the professor had a sense of where I was on the project. I didn’t think much of it, and I submitted my draft of what I had so far. When I received my feedback, the professor commented, ‘I understand English is your second language and maybe you should go to the writing center.’ Well, English is my first language, and I was a tutor at the writing center at the time. His comment led me to assume that he thinks I didn’t speak English well because I wear a hijab.”
A Black female stated, “There was a time I was minding my own business, getting a train ticket and an elderly white woman came up to me and started petting my head, asking about my ‘cool’ hair style.” And, “I was followed around at Victoria’s Secret as if I was going to steal something, and it was even worse because I worked at a different Victoria’s Secret location at the time.”
A female American-Arab Muslim said others have told her, “You’re Muslim, so you must’ve not voted for Trump;” “Are you cold or are you just wearing the thing on your head just because?” And, “An Arab professor once told me that I should remove my hijab to be more safe in society. The professor also suggested that I should take off my hijab and show cleavage when applying for a job.”
A Black Muslim female shared, “I identify as a Black Muslim, and I wear a turban every day because of my religion. But, I wanted to do a social experiment by removing my turban for a day to see people’s reaction. When I took off my turban, professors and friends shamed me for removing my turban and told me that ‘I wasn’t being true to my religion.’ And, people questioned me, ‘Are you just Black now because you took the turban off?’ That day, I wasn’t able to be both Black and Muslim. People were making me feel like I had to choose one or the other.”
I challenge you to write a list of possible microaggressions that you might have committed and explore the potential impact it had on the individual receiving the microaggression. What do your microaggressions tell you about your unconscious perception of marginalized groups?
Being transparent and honest about our biases is an important step to becoming a culturally sensitive individual. It is important to first become aware of our biases and then take action in changing our beliefs about others. So, I want to lead by example and share unintentional microaggressions that I have committed.
Clutching my purse when a Black or Latin-x male passes me on the street.
Assuming a town is dangerous because it houses minorities.
When an individual told me their pronouns were they and them, I continued to refer to them as she.
Using the phrase “That’s gay” to refer to things that are weird or different.
“I am not racist. I have several friends who are from different cultures and races.
I share these microaggressions with you and in doing so, I hope that I encourage you to be transparent and honest about possible microaggressions you have committed. It is important to remember that everyone engages in and continues to participate in microaggressions. However, you can stop committing microaggressions by personally correcting your own thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
I challenge you to try and understand world-views and others’ sociocultural realities.
Source: Counseling the Culturally Diverse. Derald W. Sue, David Sue, Helen A. Neville & Laura Smith, 2019.