You may be thinking, “What in the world is a microaggression?” So let’s take a look at the definition. Microaggressions are described as, “brief, commonplace, and daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward any marginalized group.” We can break this down a little further. When you receive a sexist WhatsApp forward about how a wife was nagging her husband, for example, that’s a microaggression. They may not be the reason why systems of oppression exist, but they contribute to these systems in implicit and dangerous ways. They can also leave people feeling uncomfortable in their environments or about themselves.
But what do you do when you’re faced with a microaggression? Sometimes we find it difficult to call someone out because of our relationship with them. Sometimes the situation just doesn’t allow us to discuss it. Even worse, we may feel coerced into silence in fear of the repercussions. These are all valid reasons to avoid dealing with a microaggression. However, ignoring it may leave us rather unsettled. Here are some things you can do if you ever encounter a microaggression.
1. The Ignorant Act
Ask questions about what the aggressor just said. For instance, if they made a rape joke, ask why it was funny. Continue asking questions to gain clarity. Watch as they stand perplexed and slowly begin to realise why their “joke” really wasn’t all that humorous.
2. Delayed Confrontation
Whether it’s through text, a phone call, or in person at a later time, you can let the aggressor know that what they said made you uncomfortable. Fair warning: be prepared to receive responses such as, “Lighten up!” Or, “I was just kidding.” Stand your ground and let them know why their microaggression is a serious problem and not just a lighthearted gag.
3. Play Teacher
If you’re feeling especially gracious, you may choose to educate the aggressor. This can be done when the microaggression was made or even after the fact, but it may be worth your while to explain the problems behind a certain statement or action. Just don’t waste your energy on doing this every single time, because it can become taxing. Ultimately, it’s important to assess whether the aggressor is willing to learn or not. You could even send them links to resources if they’re actively willing to learn.
Now you’re armed with some strategies to deal with microaggressions. Just remember that they can unfortunately be a part of going through life because not everyone has had the same experiences or resources that you’ve had. To help them understand all the nuances of social justice, evaluate their intentions and help them analyse their impact. However, don’t waste your energy on people with bad intent.