In March 2021, a report by The Mainchi stated that the president of the Tokyo Olympics said that meetings with female participants went on for too long. Unbeknown to many, this remark may be seen as a microaggression. In this day and age words can have detrimental consequences to others, whether they are explicit or implicit. But ever heard of the saying actions speak louder than words? Microaggressions do not only refer to the words used but also the actions we do which can amplify a hidden meaning.
What are microaggressions?
Very Well Mind defines a microaggression as subtle verbal or nonverbal behaviour, committed consciously or not, that is directed at a member of a marginalised group, and has a harmful, derogatory effect. Microaggressions tend to be subtle and implicit but can be damaging to someone’s mental health. According to the Oprah Magazine, microaggressions are known to feed into stereotypes and mainly target minorities such as people’s ethnicities, sexuality, religion, disability and gender. It may be harder to detect microaggressions as they can sometimes be disguised as a compliment. For example, telling someone who is not from Great Britain that their English is really good. This signifies that although you are showing that their standard of English is good, it also hints that they are not a true British person and reminding them they don’t really belong here. Subsequently, the president of the Olympics’ remarks on female meetings running too long, this can be interpreted as the fact that he thinks women are too slow or not efficient enough to hold professional meetings – even if he isn’t directly saying it.
What are some examples of microaggressions?
Examples of microaggressions can be verbal and non-verbal.
Of course, for those victims who are aware that someone is being microaggressive towards them, a common response to them would probably be “you’re just being too sensitive” or eye rolling which is a dismissive response as stated in Cambridgema.gov. It is crucial that these kinds of comments can affect someone’s mentality so should be taken seriously.
As there are different types of microaggressions, there are also several categories which fall under microaggresions. American Psychologist, Derald Wing Sue maintained that there are three different categories under racial microaggressions namely:
- Microassaults – Conscious and intentional actions or slurs
- Microinsults – Verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity
- Microinvalidations – Communications that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of colour.
With the rise of digital culture due to lockdown, language communicated is now captured in a more permanent way so can be more uncensored. The rise of applications such as Zoom, and Microsoft Teams provide a different way to communicate whilst working or studying from home.
Microaggressions are hard to detect by their nature, as they are often elusive and can be interpreted in different ways. A statement in Managers.or.uk stated: “In this relatively new ‘digital first’ sphere, the removal of many office norms has worn down certain professional barriers that would otherwise reduce the occurrence of microaggressions.” Also founder of an Instagram account Slcmicroaggressions dedicated to microaggressions in minorities, told Westminster World: “I believe microaggressions have always been present but I think that having a digital outlet has been useful for students to vent their frustrations and have brought them to the front of several topics of conversation.”
The language we use has become the product of major discourse. An article from Michigan State University confirmed that just like World War II, people were put in positions they have never been put in before, such as women in the workforce. So, they were interacting with people they have never interacted with before. Similarly, during the pandemic there are many cases where there are changes to language in various places as people have come together in a way they wouldn’t have before. Consequently, it is crucial to be considerate when interacting with someone we would not normally interact with in our social bubble whether online or in person.
Founder of Slcmicroaggressions told us: “I can’t answer exactly why microaggressions may be increasing during the pandemic, however, I can say that microaggressions are extremely prevalent in higher education.” They added: “As a student of colour, I’ve learned to brush it off but after starting college during a pandemic, I no longer wanted to tolerate it.”
Have you ever been a microaggressor?
It is clear that microaggressions are harder to detect than just aggressions, for example splurging racial abuse to someone’s face or evidently treating someone different because of their gender. Whilst this behaviour is explicit, it is obvious that it is unacceptable form of conduct. Microaggressions are more discrete but are also unacceptable. As many people are unaware of them or may not detect one it may be easier to be a microaggressor. Ever said something to someone specifically because they have a disability? For example, “Oh, you look fine to me,” to someone who identifies as being disabled. It is quite an easy trap to fall into as you may be meaning it to compliment the receiver. All the while, it may hold a separate meaning. Obviously, it is important to establish that not all these kinds of comments can come across as a microaggression. When someone who is not from the UK says to excuse their English or that their English is bad, an immediate response may be that their English is perfectly fine. So here, it is an act of sincerity to help them gain confidence in themselves. When people were asked on Instagram about the statement: “Your English is good,” the results showed that fifty-nine percent of those asked thought it to be a positive remark.
Out of twenty-eight people asked, sixteen said they thought this statement was something positive. Therefore, it is clear that these comments seem harmless when they actually uphold a deeper meaning which could be offending someone. This is why it is imperative to educate ourselves about microaggressions in order to lessen the harm of people’s mentalities. Especially today where the morale of people may already be down.