Responding to Microaggressions

This is the inaugural recap of our ethics discussion from our weekly staff meeting.  Reading materials regarding a specific topic are provided before each meeting so staff may read, think, and formulate comments and questions for the group discussion.

June 16, 2020 – Microaggressions

The two articles regarding microaggressions can be found here and here.  We encourage you to read the articles and then the recap below.  From our free-form conversation, some anecdotes are paraphrased within a paragraph, and some comments are quoted directly.  Please feel free to engage with us in the comments on this blog post!

What are microaggressions?

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

Within the linked resources themselves, the language was found at times to be exclusionary, and thus, jarring!  We do want to name the imperfection of these resources.  We want to acknowledge that there is likely no resource that is 100% perfect in its drafting or recommendations.  It only makes sense that our social conditioning to respond to microaggressions is also imperfect.  We are all guilty of microaggressions; we are aiming for greater discussion about microaggressions and awareness of our own mental blocks.

“In the space of ourselves and others, giving grace around microaggressions can be as painful as being on the receiving end of the microaggression.”

“It is easier to call out a microaggression if it’s not happening to me…it can be easier to try to take care of the people around me.”

“Our response to remain silent and grin and bear it is conditioned.”

“We can stand up for our friends aggressively, but let ourselves be completely walked over.  Fighting for anybody but ourselves can be easier.  The conversations are exhausting when they’re about us individually.” 

How can we approach microaggressions in a communicative, nonviolent way?

Having hard conversations is one skill of communication.  We’re not born learning how to communicate, and it takes practice to learn to communicate in a way that other people will receive what we are saying.   In any situation, if someone is uninterested in engaging within the conversation, then they won’t be able to receive the point we’re trying to drive home.  We must be willing to fail or stumble in communicating in order to learn and become better at having conversations.  Practicing having challenging conversations with someone we trust is one strategy that can help us feel more confident.

“Feel what you feel around the [micro]aggression.”

How much do we change our personalities to suit the environment that we’re in?

There is a separation between the work environment and the non-work environment.  It’s common to not bring the fullest expression of who we are as a person to work.  For example, we might respond aggressively to a microaggression outside of work, but in the workplace, we might laugh it off or minimize.  The assertive reaction or response is totally gone when we are at work, and the minimization is an “accidential affirmation of the [microaggressive] action.”

How can we find a balance?

“We’re socially conditioned to being accommodating when ‘in service’ at work.  How can we bring our assertiveness, without aggression, into workplace, to be a more true version of ourselves?”

How can we respond to microaggressions?

We can learn how we and our coworkers respond to stressors; fight, flight, freeze, or fawn?  By speaking openly about how we are affected, we can learn how to support one another.

In looking out for others, “I’m not the one being attacked, so it’s my job to take on this task, because I’m not the one who gets to be exhausted by this.”

We can show and educate other people by speaking up, showing that microaggressions are unacceptable.  Even if the aggressor is not interested in engaging, bystanders can learn from witnessing someone take a stand, and setting the tone for what is not acceptable.

Checking in on the person who is facing the microaggression is important – we might be able to see that they want an assist, or we might even develop a silent signal to show that help is needed. 

If a silent signal has been given:

The signaled person can step in and take over the interaction, without acknowledging the service “interruption” of stepping in new.  Stepping in and starting fresh without context or background information leads us to simply dealing with the person’s needs, and allowing our coworker to remove themself from a stressful interaction. 

Once the person has gone, we can check in with our coworker to listen to the background information and determine next steps.

If we actively witness a microaggression:

“It’s small and fast, so it kind of feels like it’s more about having intentional space to navigate the situation as part of a team.”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach.  We know we must try, and we must also be willing to fail and grow from our attempts.

How can we support after an aggressive incident?

We can make space for our coworkers to unpack what happened to them after the fact, and validate their experience.  We can share what happened with one another even if it seems insignificant or small.  If it’s still on our mind, it is not too small.