A microaggression is a comment or action that negatively targets a marginalised person or group. A microaggression can be intentional or accidental. It is a form of discrimination. People who engage in microaggressions may mean no harm to the person or group being targeted and they may not even realise that they are making a microaggressive comment or action. Regardless, microaggressions can be very hurtful to the people who experience them.
What are they?
Researchers define microaggressions as “everyday, subtle put-downs directed towards a marginalised group which may be verbal or nonverbal and is typically automatic.” Microaggressions may demean a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, heritage, age, or health status. For example, microaggressions convey disparaging messages to people because they belong — or are perceived to belong — to a specific group. The person sending the message may not realise that it is a microaggression. In some cases, a microaggression can be disguised as a compliment. One example is when a person says how articulate a colleague is or how well they speak English, implying that this is somehow unexpected because of the person’s skin colour or nationality. Denying a person’s experience is also a form of microaggression. For instance, saying to a transgender person, “I’m a woman, so I understand what you are going through.” In a more specific example, cisgender women may use microaggressions to diminish the experience of transgender women.
It is usually clear when someone’s behaviour is discriminatory, such as when they use a racial slur. A microaggression, however, may be harder to identify, and the person may not realise that their behaviour is harmful.
Types of microaggression
Microaggressions can take several forms. They may be:
● Verbal: A verbal microaggression is a comment or question that is hurtful or stigmatising to a marginalised group or person. For example, saying “You’re so smart for a woman.”
● Behavioural: This involves behaving in a way that is discriminatory or otherwise hurtful to a marginalised person or group. For example, when a waiter or bartender ignores a transgender person and instead serves a cisgender person, someone whose biological sex matches their gender identity.
● Environmental: An environmental microaggression is when subtle discrimination occurs within society, for example, when a college campus only has buildings named after white people.
If you are interested to learn more and discuss about microaggressions, specifically in workplace, join us at our “MICROAGRESSIONS AT WORK” event happening on the 30th April, Saturday at Level 3, The Orchid Room. This event will be led by speakers from ZaZaZu, the first personalised sexual wellness hub in Asia that synergises education, consultation and digital services to empower women to own their sexuality with confidence. RSVP here.