According to Psychology Today, microagressions are 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.”

This can mean anything from complimenting a non-white American on “how well they speak English,” or using the term gay in a negative way. It can also be when you call a woman a bitch where you would call a man who is doing the same thing a “strong leader.”

Microagressions are common in daily life and are not always intentional, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge them when we see them or speak them. Microagressions should not be accepted as “harmless,” because a lifetime of having these microagressions directed at a person does more damage to a person’s psyche than we can imagine. Just a few people beginning to shut down these offhand comments in daily life can begin to change a lifetime of perpetuation and acceptance of these microagressions. In addition, positive messages can be used to counter these microagressions.

What do you do?

There are things that you can do to mitigate the effects or the prevalence of microagressions, this is known as bystander intervention. The comic below by Maeril details a great example of an ideal reaction to a microaggression, or harassment.

You should make your presence as a witness known, and make eye contact with the target of the harassment and ask if they would like support. You should move yourself closer to the person being harassed. If the person being harassed consents and its safe to do so, film the event. Make suggestions if you like, but follow the lead of the person being attacked.

You should not call the police unless the person being harassed asks you to, as for many of the communities experiencing harassment now (Black people, queer and trans people, Arab and Muslims, immigrants) the presence of the police could pose a bigger danger than the current situation at hand. Do not stand aside and do nothing, but also don’t make the situation more intense. The silence of bystanders around the victim is dangerous, as it normalizes the actions of the attackers in our culture. Also, silence makes the person being harassed feel that they are all alone, and stepping in shows them that someone else cares.

Learning to identify and respond appropriately to microagressions is one of the steps in our building a new, accepting and understanding culture together. Let’s start practicing today.

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midwestern librarian, writer, activist

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