I grew up giving the benefit of the doubt. I do this most times but there are moments that are so wrong, I’m left stunned, confused, and disoriented. After attending Debora Biddle’s workshop at Life Camp, I see that micro-aggression is the word to explain unacceptable behaviors and speech. In communities, families, and the workplace, it is important to have language to reset the course of the conversation, stand up as an ally for another, or stop repugnant actions or speech. This is an appropriate time to not give the benefit of the doubt or assume positive intent. It is a time to stand up for kindness, respect, tolerance, and inclusion.
Microaggression was first coined by Chester M. Pierce. As a Harvard psychiatrist he regularly witnessed, “insults and dismissals of non-black Americans inflicting on African Americans. Microaggression is the causal degradation of any socially marginalized group, including LGBTQ+ people, people living in poverty, and people who are disabled.” Verbal comments or non-verbal body language are messages that do not welcome, keep people in the fringe and invalidates personhood.
Microaggression: Intended to degrade and exclude by focusing on othering comments.
Micro assault: Intended to oppress and deliberately hurt by racist comments.
Micro invalidation: Intended to exclude and nullify the thoughts and feelings of a person.
Examples of microaggressions are:
“You’re too sensitive.” Or “You are being paranoid.” This invalidates the other and sends the message that they don’t matter.
Not calling someone by their given name because it is difficult to say. This invalidates a person as lesser than because they are not worth their name said correctly. Dr. Will Menninger said, “The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of your own name.”
Any questions that ask a stereotype is not inclusive and is insensitive to the person.
Be culturally inclusive. Welcome all with a heartfelt belonging to a group.
Be an ally or seek an ally. Offer help and jump in if you witness aggression. If you see something, say something.
If you unintendedly said or did something that caused harm, accept responsibility, apologize, and try to make it right.
Don’t react. Stop. Breathe. Acknowledge what you heard. Respond. Learn.
We are in a time of transformation. We are learning old patterns and speech that no longer serves us or our community. Be patient with yourself as you gain new insights and practice advocacy. There’s no wrong way to be an ally other than not trying.