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Learn & Unlearn: Anti-racism Resource Guide

Lesson 4: Microaggressions

Original post on @saic.maffairs posted 12/13/2020.

Foundation: Power / Prejudice, Stereotypes, Discrimination / Wellness

What are microaggressions?

Microaggressions are subtle comments & actions that are often well-intentioned but are harmful in nature, reveal underlying biases, and reinforce stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. (See Lesson: Stereotype, Prejudice, and Discimination). 

These recurring, commonplace comments or actions are anything but small. The impact of a comment matters far more than its intention - no matter how good. Microaggressions - both intentional and unintentional - can take the form of a verbal comment, insult, joke, compliment, question, or a nonverbal action, and are packed with potent ramifications that cause harm, accumulates, and degrades a person with every instance. The microaggression may be brief, but their effects are lasting.1

Lasting effects may include: Feeling alienated, invalidated, insulted, dismissed. Microaggressions can determine how safe someone feels, how seen and valued they are, how comfortable a room can be... One microaggression is harmful, but imagine being on the receiving end of microaggressions again and again and again everyday.2

Microaggressions may be difficult to recognize at first due to their overabundance, but become familiar with any of their three forms and you’ll recognize how prevalent they are. 

  • Microassaults: Conscious derogatory comments or actions intended to cause harm. Examples: Being followed, being ignored in a store, using racial epithets, name-calling, avoidance, suspicion… Asking a trans person private and intrusive questions, mispronouncing a person’s name, assigning someone a nickname
  • Microinsults: Comments or actions that discredit, dismisses, or devalues a person’s social identity. Often disguised as: a compliment. Example: Complimenting a person’s intellect, or being ‘so articulate,’  Expecting that a person obtained a position through quota or affirmative action vs. ability, Asking to touch someone’s hair 
  • Microinvalidations: Comments or actions that negates, erases, and diminishes the experiences of historically and systematically oppressed groups. Disguised as: Claiming similarity. Common example: “I don’t see color,” “Don’t be so sensitive.”3


“Microaggressions can be directed at any socially devalued group in society. Any group that is marginalized can be the subject of microaggressions. The dynamics that define them are the same but the themes are different.” - Derald Wing Sue

To Read

To Research

To Listen

To Watch

To Follow

Dr. Mariel Buquè @dr.marielbuque
The Listen Up! Podcast @thelistenuppodcast
Racial Literacy Club @racialliteracyclub 
Brittney R. Cobb @ablackfemaletherapist

To Reflect

What are some examples of microaggressions you’re familiar with? 
Focus on one example… What about the comment was harmful? 
How did the microaggression affect the person receiving them?
What is the difference between the intention of the comment, and the impact? 

To Act

What makes microaggressions so harmful, is its prevalence in everyday interactions. Disrupt microaggressions when they happen. It’s up to us to make its effects visible. 
Name microaggressions when they happen. 

  1. Clarify “What did you mean by that?
  2. Shift the perspective “Have you considered how that could be offensive?”
  3. Disagree “I don’t see it that way,” “That’s not true/accurate.”
  4. Rephrase “I think what you meant to say was…”

Hold others and yourself accountable for the things you say, do, and echo. 
Apologize when it happens, move forward, stay informed, and commit to doing better. 


  1. Korin Miller and Korin Miller, "Microaggressions Are Often Unintentional-But That Doesn't Mean They're Not Harmful,", June 8, 2020.
  2. Elizabeth Hopper, "What Is a Microaggression? Everyday Insults With Harmful Effects," ThoughtCo, 2019. 
  3. Simba Runyowa, “Microaggressions Are Real,” The Atlantic, September 18, 2015.