Although bandied around a lot today, the term “microaggression” was only just added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in February 2017. However, it first gained traction when Columbia professor Derald Sue defined it as; “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults”, and Buzzfeed reported that Sue first heard the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in the 1970s. Today, whilst microaggressions are generally talked about in relation to race, really any marginalised group in our society can experience them; women, LGBT persons, those with disabilities, religious minorities etc can all be targets. Microaggressions are hard to pinpoint and call-out because they’re a subtle type of prejudice and often, they’re directed towards people in a jokey manner. Watch the video below for a crash-course in microaggressions and check some common examples and their coded meanings below.
LMAOOOOOOO! What If man! pic.twitter.com/8qGoffKRRz
— Khadijah Flames ✨ (@CheweyPNewton) November 17, 2017
Now you know all about microaggressions, let’s take a look at the most cringe-worthy examples that have actually happened to people…
“Where are you *really* from?”
Most annoying encounters are when people ask “where are you REALLY from” or “what’s your nationality” like bih go educate yourself — Jessica Mou (@jessicaaamou) January 18, 2018
Why it’s a microaggression: Asking someone who was born in the same country as you ‘where’ it is they come from can be jarring as it can often imply that person is yet to return home, or that they don’t belong in the country of their birth. Only chat about their heritage if they bring it up first and don’t push to know the details of someone’s ethnicity or cultural upbringing if they don’t give you the answers you’re looking for.
“Are you having an arranged marriage?”
Zahrah from Go Think Big is a Mauritian Muslim, but she finds that sometimes people assume she’s Asian as she wears a hijab, or asks her questions that have nothing to do with her culture. (Hint: religion doesn’t make everyone live their lives the same way). She told us: “I was at a work Christmas event and the discussion was about weddings – I love talking about weddings – so I leant in to join the discussion and was immediately asked if I was expected to have an arranged marriage. I’m not. You shouldn’t assume that all Muslims are into arranged marriages”. Quite right Zahrah…
“I’m just gonna call you…Jane!”
@tauriqmoosa white people not even giving your name a try, saying its “too difficult,” is the most standard microaggression
— Skinny Phuppa (@BasiRoti) April 2, 2015
Why it’s a microaggression: Ever met someone with a name you feel nervous pronouncing? Well maybe in their culture, their name is pretty standard. In fact, they probably think your name is super complicated, only they probably won’t let you know that because it’s not polite. If you’re struggling to say their first or last name, don’t shorten it or give ‘em a nickname without their permission – that’s probably going to come off a tad insulting (who likes being called something they’re not?!). Instead, ask them politely how they pronounce/spell their name and give it a good go – they’ll deffs appreciate it!
“Fasting is ridiculous”
Why it’s a microaggression: Deriding someone else’s religious practices because you don’t agree with them is a microagression. As Zahrah explained, it makes her feel super awkward when people insult Ramadan, the Islam practice of fasting. She said: “I was asked about why I was fasting at school and told it was ‘barbaric’ by a teacher…he said I shouldn’t be given special treatment for religious reasons. I was also told by a peer that it was ‘ridiculous’ that exams were being rearranged to cater for students who were fasting. I believe she said something like; ‘you can’t just rearrange an exam timetable because of religious holidays’, although I’m sure she’s fine with the fact that the entire academic year is formed around two religious festivals…
“So, how do you have *real* sex?”
Why it’s a microaggression: It’s never polite to ask someone about their sex life (in fact we find it hella awkward even with our mates), but if you’re quizzing someone who identifies as LGBT, it could come across as super rude and intrusive. Many LGBT people have personal stories related to their gender or sex that are often layered with sensitive issues – so no doubt not all of them are comfortable divulging the details. Buzzfeed reported on an excellent photo series that showed the many types of microaggressions that LGBT people often face, from hearing comments like ‘that’s so gay!’ to having to answer questions about their relationships. Not putting your foot in it is actually easy; just think – would I want to be asked this question? If the answer’s ‘no’, keep mum and move along, people.
Also, be sure to watch our video below on how diversity in the workplace can help everyone:
Like this? How about…