What We Can Do
There are many good reasons to confront a microaggression, both for the offender and the offended. These include helping the offender (who often did not mean to cause harm) realize their bias, changing behavior, and setting a norm that the behavior is neither tolerable nor acceptable.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 39 – No 01 – January 2020
People tend to judge themselves by their intentions. If they consider themselves to be thoughtful and kind, then the intent of their comment may conflict with its impact and its unintended consequences. When speaking out against a microaggression, we have to be aware that the person being called out can be expected to react in a range of ways, from anger, denial, and minimization to guilty or apology. These are all natural reactions.
That is why one of the bystander strategies for combatting microaggressions is to take action as they occur. Here are some strategies for interrupting and intercepting microaggressions.3
- Ask a clarifying question.
- Come from a place of curiosity, then listen actively and openly.
- Tell others about your experience: “I noticed that…”
- Encourage others to consider the impact of their words or actions: “How do you think people feel when..?”
- Own your response. “When I hear your comment, I think/feel…”
- Identify next steps and request appropriate action. “I’d appreciate if you would not…”
For those in supervisory positions, several actions can be taken to help create a workplace environment that minimizes microaggressions. First, set expectations for a safe learning or workplace environment. Second, encourage staff and trainees to speak up when they feel uncomfortable about a situation. Third, if you experience a microaggression, share your story so that others may feel more comfortable sharing their stories. Finally, use of “interrupting microaggression” strategies should be consistently encouraged and modeled to set an example for others in the workplace.
While microaggressions may seem small, they are not. Fortunately, it does not take heroic efforts to stop them from causing immediate and downstream hurt and diminishing the quality of our workplace. However, it takes awareness and willingness to act. Working together, we can prevent the macro effects of microaggressions and decrease their prevalence in the process.
“The Equity Equation” is curated by Dara Kass, MD, and Uché Blackstock, MD.
Dr. Blackstock is CEO and founder of Advancing Health Equity.
- Sue DW, Capodilupo CM, Torino GC, et al. Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. Am Psychol. 2007;62(4):271-286.
- Hopper E. What is a microaggression? Everyday insults with harmful effects. ThoughtCo. website. July 3, 2019. Accessed Dec. 19, 2019.
- Souza T. Responding to microaggressions in the classroom: taking ACTION. Faculty Focus website. April 30, 2018. Accessed Dec. 19, 2019.