A Crash Course In Racial Microaggression

The way you speak and act says more than you know

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

With tension over racial inequality and police brutality at an all time high in the United States, many other countries have been forced to look at their own issues.

The United Kingdom is one such country.

After days of protests that culminated in the removal of several controversial statues both by protestors and authorities, the UK has been forced to acknowledge a factor that it has long swept under the rug.

It’s an issue perfectly highlighted in a video courtesy of the Suffolk police.

Original post by Twitter User maja

Many people have watched the video with differing reactions.

Some immediately spot the language and behaviour that is commonplace for Black people in the UK. They are almost instantly aware of the insults and the lack of compassion. They catch the implied stereotypes and the dismissive approach but not all people are aware of what they’re seeing, which is why I’m writing this piece.

The term microaggression refers to language, behaviour or situations that might or might not be intentional but which communicates a level of hostility and negativity towards a specific group of people.

Microaggression is broken into three main forms.

1. Microassault

2. Microinsult

3. Microinvalidation

Let’s start with Microassault.

According to a study on microaggression, a microassault is a form of explicit racial derogation. A microassault ranges from name-calling to avoidant behaviour.

The study further notes that these microassaults tend to be deliberate acts that the perpetrator will only indulge in when they are in a private setting, hence the micro.

The UK is rife with microassaults.

It’s being called coloured by the so-called older generation who don’t know better. It’s sitting on the bus only to have the person beside you move to another seat usually to sit beside someone of their own skin colour.

These are small instances that cause people of colour to feel less than. There’s nothing they can report without seeming ‘sensitive’ or over the top. It’s easier to internalize the pain that these situations cause us.

Choosing between your dignity and your job is difficult and a lot of these microassaults never get reported because of this.

Our next form of microaggression is the microinsult.

A microinsult is a form of communication that demeans a person’s racial heritage.

These are basically snubs with a racial undertone.

“You sound like a White woman.”

No, I sound intelligent and you assumed that a Black woman can’t sound intelligent. That sounds like a you problem.

“I’m so glad our company’s diversity program helped you get a job.”

It is to be noted that often times people aren’t aware of the double meaning of their speech, however this does not in any way diminish the impact it has on people of colour.

The final form of microaggression is microinvalidation.

Microinvalidation is communication that seeks to nullify or dismiss the experiences of a specific group.

One of the examples used in the mentioned article is one that I’ve heard countless times over the past few days in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We are all human beings.”

Helms 1992 found that this statement was often used to negate the experiences that people faced.

It was a verbal form of blinkers, if you would.

We’re all human beings so you can’t possibly have experienced something that I haven’t just because of your skin colour. That can’t possibly be true.

It’s an easy way to dismiss the damage caused by racism without ever having to truly acknowledge it.

I worked in a hospital for five years and I have experienced every single type of microaggression that I’ve addressed in this piece, as have many other people of colour.

The truth of the matter is microaggressions are so woven into the fabric of society that removing it seems like a daunting task.

Listen when people of colour tell you they’re not okay with what you said or how you acted.

Listen when a Black woman says that referring to her as exotic is a form of fetishization and not a compliment.

Listen when people tell you to not use a specific word because it’s a slur.

Listen to the people who are being hurt instead of your own bruised pride.

This has been your crash course on microaggression, I hope you learnt a thing or two.

I’m just a Jamaican-British writer trying to make things work in a big world. Find me on twitter @db_mckenzie.

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