By Nadeya Hussain –
A law enacted in 1964 called the Civil Rights Act and the Human Rights Act passed in 1998 prohibit discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, and other characteristics, ensuring every individual’s rights. While this resulted in mass improvement within society, discrimination remains an issue in many areas. An example of this is through the concept of ‘microaggression’.
Now, what is microaggression?
The definition of this term is “A comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalised group (such as a racial minority). But let’s discuss that further.
Realistically, microaggressions take place everywhere. This includes social settings, friendship groups, educational settings, and the workplace itself. The statistics demonstrate that 58% of all employees have experienced microaggressions at their workplace.
Different forms of microaggression: micro assault, microinsult, and microinvalidation
Micro assault is if a person overtly and consciously seeks to hurt another person through insults or other discriminatory actions. It can take place in both verbal and non-verbal ways.
Microinsult is when someone subtly and unconsciously conveys rudeness and insensitivity in ways that diminish a person’s value and identity. ‘You don’t look Asian,’ for instance.
Microinvalidation occurs when a communication rejects, contradicts, or disregards the feelings and emotions of a marginalised individual.
Different types of examples:
You may recognise some of these examples as occurring around you. You may have been unaware of them as well, or you may be saying them unconsciously. Each example is accompanied by a discussion of the message you or the other person is conveying.
- A white person begins to clutch their bag or purse when they see a person of colour. Message: You are going to steal/ you are a criminal/ you are dangerous.
- ‘You don’t look Asian/black/gay?’ Message: While this may seem like an innocent statement, you are implying that they must look a certain way in order to represent themselves as a certain type of identity.
- ‘I’m not racist. I can’t be racist. I have black friends.’ Message: You’re denying individual racism, or you feel like you can make racial assumptions because you are ‘like them’, which is not a free pass.
- To a woman, ‘Wow, I would have never guessed you are a doctor/engineer(or any male assumed role)’. Message: The implication is that a woman cannot take on a particular role because of her gender. This is assigning intelligence and stereotypes to someone’s gender.
- ‘All lives matter’ Message: You are countering the message of ‘Black Lives Matter’. Even though we know that all lives matter, the Black Lives Matter movement was imperative in conveying that often Black lives are treated like they don’t. The movement aims to fight for equality and highlight the oppression and discrimination faced. In recent times, this was particularly in light of the George Floyd movement that raised mass awareness and rekindled the Black Lives Matter movement.
The list goes on; there are so many types of microaggression that I have not highlighted here but are vital to be aware of. Here’s a helpful document for further knowledge or examples: Click here.
The Impact of Microaggression
As mentioned above, some may find these offensive and insulting. In addition, these seemingly innocuous phrases can take a toll on someone’s mental health, especially if they feel excluded by society or individual members. Eventually, this can lead to feelings of anger or even depression.
What can we do to change this?
We can educate each other as a community. Whenever you hear someone using a phrase that is a form of microaggression, you should inform them why this type of language is inappropriate in a calm manner. Facilitate honest discussions. Initiate the change.