A few weeks ago, I attended the Racial Justice Summit, an annual event hosted by YWCA of McLean County. The event was well attended; the room was full with about 150 people from all over town, including Unit 5 School District, local human services organizations, non-profit and for-profit organizations, and many people from ISU. This year’s summit was Micro-Aggression, defined by summit keynote speakers Dr. Christopher Benson and Dr. Hsiao-Wen Lo as brief verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities that communicate hostile or negative racial slights or insults toward a racial minority group. Dr. Lo used several examples from Sue et al. (2007) to illustrate the concepts as follows:
- “I’m not a racist, I have a friend who is Native American.”
- “As a woman, I know what you go through.”
- “Why are you so loud?” or “Why are you so quiet?”
- “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
- “Everyone can succeed if they work hard.”
- “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”
The examples above are pulled out of their conversational context so you need to imagine the context they are spoken in, but if you reflect on the comments, you could think of contexts where comments such as these could potentially hurt the feelings of a member of a racial minority. The negative effects of these comments are often unintentional and often made by people who are caring and kind and try to treat people equally, but none the less the effect of the Micro-Aggression is often damaging for those who receive it. Dr. Benson emphasized that we all commit Micro-Aggression in daily life. Thinking about my own life, I can clearly remember occasions that could be taken as Micro-Aggression. On almost all occasions, my actions were unintentional, but whether intentional or unintentional, I’m sure the effects were the same.
When I began writing this blog post, I googled “Micro-Aggression” and found a website, http://microaggressions.com/, where people post instances of verbal Micro-Aggression they have received or observed. I noticed that Micro-Aggression could be made toward any kind of minority group (not just racial minorities but also people with non-heterosexual orientation and people with various disabilities). It was really amazing to read the entries on the website and see how often we are unaware of Micro-Aggression. I am sure that the people who said these comments might have meant well but were not aware of the impact their words could have (well, some of them are plain ignorant but that’s another story).
To come back to the conference, Dr. Lo provided the participants several strategies that could help us act as an ally when friends, family, and co-workers were the target of Micro-Aggression. When we hear about the instances of Micro-Aggression from friends, family, and co-workers, we often minimize, deny, or dismiss the instances as if they were overreacting or rationalize their experiences as unique. Instead, she suggested that we should listen to their stories, acknowledge their experiences, and validate their perspectives. Once we have done that, we should think collaboratively about strategies to intervene with the situations and advocate for a better outcome. Dr. Lo used really great real-life examples in the presentation, and I’d love to share it with you in person if you’re interested. Additionally, I’ll be doing more research in this area and examining the classroom implications of Micro-Aggression for both instructors and students. I hope to share it with you soon in a future workshop or blog post.