It’s no secret that we still live in a white male-dominated society where members of minority groups suffer through offensive comments and behavior (microaggressions) regarding their race, gender, sexuality, religion, and the like. But how to deal with microaggressions? Take a look at our tips if you, as a female and a person of color, are tired of ignoring this issue.
What Is a Microaggression?
Microaggression is a term we use for naming intentional or unintentional offenses directed towards a marginalized group. Verbal or behavioral, they are derogatory for individuals who suffer through them. As women of color, we all have to deal with them daily, but they commonly occur with other stigmatized groups, as well (LGBTQ+, for example, or people with disabilities).
Know the Different Types of Microaggression
Not all microaggressions are the same. However, they can usually be classified into three different categories:
Microinsults – aggressors are unconscious of their verbal or behavioral discrimination (ex. assuming that you’ll travel with a business class just because you are a person of color).
Microassaults – aggressors may deliberately say or behave offensively, but don’t consider that kind of behavior offensive (ex. Person saying That’s so gay).
Microinvalidations – aggressors try to undermine or even completely deny the reality of the marginalized group member (ex. When a white person claims racism doesn’t exist, or it’s not that severe).
Microaggressions Towards Women of Color
Women of color need to wage a double battle – not only that we need to deal with racism, but also with gender oppressions. You can witness them everywhere. For example, have you ever been in a situation where your co-workers ask your male colleague about a certain topic, even though you proved to have greater knowledge on it? Or in a scenario when a handyman starts explaining what needs to be fixed by only looking at your partner, assuming you won’t understand?
Microaggressions based on race and gender are a much bigger problem than they may seem. Even though these types of comments and behaviors may seem harmless to some, they gradually pile up, affecting your mental state more than you’re probably aware of. Deliberately or not, they can lead to an overwhelming mental health crisis.
Women of color deal with microaggressions on several different levels
How Microaggressions Affect the Victim?
Some may think that microaggressions are not as harmful as the more apparent attacks, but studies have shown differently. Victims who go through them daily for an extended period often feel stressed and show severe anxiety symptoms. Social problems can have a significant influence on mental health, which is why there is more and more talk about African American women and depression.
Take a scientific study that has examined microaggressions on college campuses, for example. In this study, researchers have connected a more pronounced feeling of frustration and self-doubt amongst African American students with microaggression they are constantly exposed to. Simultaneously, those feelings significantly impacted physical health and led to frequent physical problems, like headaches, high blood pressure, and sleep issues.
Intentional or unintentional, hostile behavior affects the rise of negative feelings
Responding to Microaggressions – Should You Address It?
Should you respond to another person’s deliberate or unintentional offensive statement or behavior? While, in most cases, some kind of response is desirable, you can choose to let everything go.
If you’re hurt, angry, embarrassed, or aggravated, confronting the aggressor may help you feel better. However, if you’re indifferent or think that confrontation is not the best solution at this moment, don’t feel pressured to respond. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you’re feeling – choose yourself instead of trying to keep everybody happy.
Tips on How to Respond to Microaggressions
If you wish to confront the aggressor, here are the steps you should take:
Step 1 – State that you have a problem with what they said or how they behaved and that you need to discuss it.
Step 2 – Bring their focus on the part that has offended you and explain how that made you feel. Don’t use a harsh and accusing tone.
Step 3 – Look for more information. Ask them to clarify their thoughts or explain why they said something or behaved in a certain way and explain how you interpreted it.
Step 4 – Choose if and how you want all of it to affect you.
At the same time, you should refrain from passive-aggressive sarcastic comments or overly emotional reactions. Instead of it, aim for a calm discussion in which you’ll draw the aggressor’s attention to how he or she made you feel and the reason behind it.
Know that microaggressions are not easy to spot to those who are not affected by them. They don’t necessarily come from a bad place but are products of white or male privileges (or both combined).
Ask Yourself When Is the Best Time for You to Respond
Now that you know how to handle microaggressions properly, another question arises – when is the best time to do so? Should you do it immediately after or address the issue later and in private. The answer, too, lies in the way that you are feeling.
Are you feeling “only” frustrated, or are you mentally exhausted? Keep in mind that strong emotions can affect your ability to have a calm discussion. Rather than that, it’s more likely that you’ll lose control over the conversation and achieve just the opposite of what you wanted.
Therefore, if a microaggression in question leaves you furious, let yourself calm down before addressing the problem. In other cases, when dominant emotions are confusion or irritation, addressing the problem as soon as it happens would be the best choice.
Be Aware of Racial and Gender Gaslighting That Can Occur After a Confrontation
Gaslighting is a type of manipulation in which victims are forced to question their judgment, and you should be prepared for it if you decide to react to the microaggression you experienced. It can occur no matter when you choose to confront the aggressor.
Although you can expect defending to be a part of every confrontation, be aware when the aggressor tries to blame you for it. If you address a microaggression right away, some may deem you overly dramatic and excessively emotional, attributing it to your gender or ethnicity. On the other hand, if you approach the aggressor later, some may perceive you as a petty person who holds a grudge over small things (as they see it).
It’s crucial that you remain confident and don’t let your aggressors and their words change your judgment. Of course, if you continue to experience this type of behavior, ensure to ask other people for help or seek professional support. In the meantime, focus your energy on self-care ideas, or even seek and choose a therapist if you deem it necessary.
Don't question how you feel because of what other people say
How to Deal With Microaggressions in the Work Environment?
Being an African American woman in a workplace, it is more than likely that you’ve already dealt with a fair share of microaggressions. If your physical and psychological health is suffering because of the work stress you’re experiencing, it’s just a matter of time before it begins to influence your performance at work. But how to deal with stress caused by microaggressions?
Confronting the aggressor and having a constructive discussion with them is always beneficial in the long run. If the tips we mentioned above don’t help and you find yourself in the same situation soon, ensure your superiors become well aware of your situation. Increasing awareness of this issue can lead to positive changes, like a more inclusive and, therefore, healthier and more productive work environment.
The level of your (un)happiness undoubtedly affects your productivity
How to Stop Microaggressions (And Is It Even Possible)?
Cultural change cannot happen overnight, so you’ll likely have to continue dealing with microaggressions, no matter how hard you try to stand in their way. However, that doesn’t mean that you should stop fighting. Help your colleagues, acquaintances, friends, and other people acknowledge that microaggressions do exist and correct them if they become aggressors.
Call out those who are making them, raise awareness, take care of yourself, and don’t let these statements and behavior bring you down. It’s not an easy task, but each successful confrontation can bring us one step further to a more inclusive society.
Confronting the aggressors can be pretty liberating
If You’re Struggling, Women of Color Therapy Can Offer Resources for Fighting Microaggressions
Sometimes we need additional support to help us deal with problems we are facing, and there is nothing shameful in that – stop wondering should you see a therapist and just do so. If coping with microaggressions becomes too much to bear alone and you’re looking for professional guidance, WOC Therapy is here to listen and empower you through workshops and classes.
Remember that we are not professionals speaking lines out of the book. Racial and gender microaggressions are also a part of our reality. Contact us and book your first therapy appointment if you want to get in touch with excerpts who know exactly what you’re going through.
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