Understanding Microaggressions

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In this article, I want to explain what microaggressions are. As we move to the stage as a community to reaffirm our commitment to being anti-racist within the Student Union but also within the University itself and the local community. Therefore, this article would be an educational piece on the definition, history, misconception, and the future of microaggressions.


Racial Microaggressions can be defined as, “the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to racially minorities during individuals by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated”. The definition illustrates that white people who are genuinely well-intentioned can fall I to
the trap of showing biases or state comments that are considered to be offensive in a wider context than they might realise. How did this subject come about? Back in 1970, Dr. Chester Pierce was the first to coin the term “microaggression”– as common as denim, now — to describe the subtle racial putdowns that degrade physical health over a lifetime. But the concept is also rooted in the work of Jack Dovidio, Ph.D., and Samuel Gaertner, Ph.D. in their formulation of aversive racism. While many well-intentioned white people consciously believe in and profess equality, they often act in a racist manner unconsciously.


One of the misconceptions is that microaggressions the same as racism. The answer is yes and no. They are based on some of the same core ideas about people who are minorities or are marginalized in parts of the world (for example, that they’re not smart, that they don’t belong, or that they make good punchlines), but microaggressions are a little different from
overtly racist, sexist, or homophobic acts or comments because they typically don’t have any negative intent or hostility behind them. People who engage in microaggressions are ordinary folks who experience themselves as good, moral, decent individuals.


Microaggressions occur because they are outside the level of conscious awareness.
Within Microaggressions there are three sections:
• Micro – assaults
• Microinsults
• Microinvalidations


Firstly, we look at Micro assaults. Micro- assaults are Explicit and conscious derogatory racist epithets that are purposefully meant to hurt people of colour. Examples may include but are not limited too:


 Name-calling
 Promoting discriminatory signs and flags
 avoidant behaviour, purposeful discriminatory actions.

In addition to this, we then begin to look at microinsults which out of the 3 terms, tend to be the one most recognised act of microaggression as well as micro-invalidations. It can be defined as unconscious and unintentional demeaning slights made toward people of colour. Examples are but not limited to:


 Implying that one got a job because of quotas
 You don’t look Black/ white enough
 You are a credit to your race

Lastly, we look at the final term. Microinvalidations. These, like microinsults, are the biggest acts of microaggression acts in practice throughout society. Microinvalidations can be defined as being, communications that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological
thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person belonging to a particular group. Examples are but not limited to:


• Commenting on how well someone speaks English, when from an English-speaking country in the Global South
• Statements such as “`When I look at you, I don’t see colour”
• Comments such as “There is only one race, the human race “
• Comments such as” I’m not a racist. I have several Black friends”

In order to grasp the effects of microaggression as it can hold on minorities, I need to share with you my personal experience of it. Throughout my 19 years of existence, I have experienced various forms of microinsults and microinvalidations. These included:


 “You’re black on the outside but white on the inside”
 “You’re English is very good”
 “Where are you really from?”
 “Does your family live in huts?”
 “I never touched a black person’s hair before, can I touch yours?”
 “You’re playing the Race card”


How did this affect me mentally you might ask? Firstly, I felt that I couldn’t be myself, and had to be the person that people wanted me to be. As growing up, there was this atmosphere of “leave your culture at the door”. This consequently progressed into the feeling that I never felt good enough or truly accepted within society.

While I explained how microaggressions affected me, we haven’t talked about how it could affect BAME students with their Mental Health. A report was done by the Why is Curriculum White Campaign, tilted “, Built-in Barriers: The Role of Race in Shaping BME Student.


Experiences at Lancaster University. Their findings were as follows,
• BAME Students experienced more depression, self-doubt, frustration, and isolation that impacted their education as a result.
• 19% of students surveyed feel their race had a negative impact on their safety.
• For those who had experienced racism and microaggressions, less than 5%
claimed they had reported it to either the Union or the University.

  • 47% of the participants feel they have to modify their ethnic and cultural identity to ‘fit in’ with western norms in academic settings.


It shows that within Higher Education and here at Lancaster University, BAME Students’ experiences will often be worse compared to white students due to the racial institutional barriers that are still present. In addition to this, the worsening of their mental health will see. BAME Students lose trust within the university and are more likely to be less engaged within the university community.


In order to combat this, we all need to make an effort. I am asking readers to be:


 constantly vigilant of your own biases and fears.
 Don’t be defensive. Listen
 Be open to discussing your attitudes and biases and how they might have hurt others or in some sense revealed bias on your part
 Be an ally, by standing personally against all forms of bias and discrimination.


By doing so, only then can we remain committed and reaffirmed to the process of decolonizing our institutions and be more progressive in our to be more inclusive, not only within the university but as well within society.

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