How can this be combatted?
When I was working in high schools, many Black teenage girls would tell me that one of the most common things they heard from white classmates was, “You’re pretty for a Black girl,” which led me to think about, what can the targets of microaggressions do as a comeback? We just submitted the final draft of our next book, in which my research team and I talked about microinterventions, the everyday comebacks or statements that disarm microaggressors.
Now, when people compliment my English, I say, “Thank you. I hope so. I was born here,” or, “You speak excellent English too.” When I brought that up, the high school girls would laugh. I said, “Why don’t you say the same thing?” When you get a compliment, “You’re pretty for a dark girl,” simply say, “You’re pretty for a white girl.” It’s a reversal. Verbal jujitsu. This is an art rather than a science.
Are microaggressions the same as racism?
Microaggressions vary from microassaults to microinsults to microinvalidations. A microassault is like old-fashioned racism, being called a racial epithet. You know where the person is coming from. Microassaults are meant to put you down, to harm you. And it’s easier for me to deal with an overt racist than someone in which the racism is outside of conscious awareness.
We find microinvalidation probably the most harmful, and it’s the well-intentioned people who are unaware of their biases that do the most harm. They are the teachers who educate our children; the employers who decide whom they’re going to hire, retain, promote, and fire. They’re the healthcare providers who determine the quality and quantity of healthcare that people receive.
Microaggressions to people of color are constant and continual. They occur from the time you awaken until you go to bed, from the time we are born until we die. They are also cumulative, in which anyone can represent the straw that breaks the camel’s back. They are constant reminders of your second-class status in this society. They create a psychological racial fatigue because you always have to decipher the conscious communication from the hidden insult.
What is their impact?
Microaggressions can have macro impact. When Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, Zimmerman was operating from a microaggression that African American youngsters walking in that particular neighborhood represented a potential criminal. So, while it was a microaggression — it seemed to be an insignificant harm in action — the impact was the death of Trayvon Martin.
One of the things that police officers historically have been able to use as a defense that was acceptable to a jury was that they killed the unarmed Black man because they feared for their lives. Now, I don’t doubt that many police officers feared for their lives, but it was based upon a stereotypical image of how Black men are portrayed in our society, that they are criminals, subhuman aliens, or other beings — that killing them is not related to killing a human being.
Microaggressions have macro impact upon the standard of living of marginalized groups in our society. How else can you define the fact that the majority of CEO positions in Fortune 400 companies are white men? Why are 90% of school superintendents white men in an occupation actually dominated by women? Microaggressions not only harm on an individual level, but they also harm the standard of living, housing, employment, and healthcare. It has a major detrimental impact. It isn’t the white supremacist who is harming my standard of living. It is decent, well-intentioned individuals who experience themselves as moral human beings who do not realize that they are engaging in actions that are detrimental to the psychological health, physical survival, and well-being of people or communities of color.
What is the difference between micro- and macroaggressions?
Microaggressions affect individual targets and reside in the individual biases, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of individuals. Macroaggressions affect whole classes of groups of populations and reside in the structures, programs, policies of institutions, society, and our customs. This is the distinction that can be made between individual racism (microaggressions) and systemic racism (macroaggressions).
What are examples of macroaggressions?
We have come to recognize the power and impact of environmental macroaggressions that affect socially devalued groups in our society. Confederate statues and flags. Sports teams’ logos of Native Americans. The American Psychological Association has conducted studies that indicate mascots and environmental macroaggressions have major psychological harm and impact. I applaud the taking away of the Confederate flag in NASCAR, and removing Aunt Jemima. Other people may not find them offensive, but certain groups do. And they are very harmful psychologically.