Microaggressions are Still Racist

I have been wanting to write about microaggressions for some time because these are so frequently acted out by white people who think that they are not racist. But the truth is, whether conscious or subconscious, we are mostly guilty in communicating our prejudices in a way that People of Colour have to tolerate every single day.

So many books talk about microaggressions. There is little data on it but it is clearly a lived experienced that cannot be ignored. Ibram X. Kendi in Chapter 4 of his book, How to be an Antiracist talks about microaggressions, including the origin of the term in the 70s, and examples that experienced as a child, like being ignored by a teacher in favour of a white child. Akala also talks about similar experiences in his book Natives. Slay in Your Lane, last month's book club book, was full of examples in the workplace, at university and in life generally. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla, and Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods by Otegha Uwagba all provide personal accounts of how People of Colour experience the wide variety of belittling, patronising, unwelcoming downright rude microaggressions.


Now I'd let my Head of Sixth Form take it away. She wrote an informative piece on microaggressions for our students and she very kindly let me post it here. Thank you so much to Hazel!

Microaggressions are the everyday insults and slights, indignities and put-downs that members of marginalised groups experience. Prof. Derald Wing Sue categorises 3 groups:

Microassaults - these are intentional actions or slurs directed towards a person or people of colour - e.g displaying a swastika

Microinsults - these are verbal or non verbal communications that subtly demean a person's racial or cultural identity- such as telling someone their name is too difficult to pronounce

Microinvalidations - these are communications that subtly exclude the thoughts, feelings or experience of a person of colour - for instance asking people where they are 'really' from

Microaggressions may also be experienced by the LGBT community. For example; persistently using a non-preferred pronoun despite having it made known to you, or exclaiming that someone doesn't 'look' gay.

Microaggressions can also be experienced more widely. Please think before you use the term 'lame' as a slur or talk about being 'a bit OCD', as it is likely that if you are using these terms, you do not have a full understanding of living with a disability.

If you've experienced a microaggression please take yourself to a safe space and talk to a trusted adult at home or in school. As an ally, if you have witnessed a microagression, please talk to a trusted adult.

If you have been called out for a microaggression please consider the following:

1. Say 'sorry.' Do not say 'sorry but....'. We understand that your intention might not be to cause hurt but the outcome was that someone was hurt, please do not focus on the intention. Just say 'sorry' for the outcome. Then take time and talk to a trusted adult for some advice.

2. A microaggression, a racist comment, does not make you a bad person! Do not have a meltdown over this. No-one thinks you are an evil person and you shouldn't either -we all make mistakes and we all learn from them. Please do not draw the focus of the group to how you are feeling. Instead, talk to a trusted adult.

3. Please do not try to dismiss the incident. Just say sorry and speak to a trusted adult. It may seem 'minor' to you -but you have not lived in the shoes of the person who you have affected - you don't know how often they experience microaggressions. This could be the third incident of the day.

What can we all do:

  • Be vigilant of our own thoughts and question our own assumptions

  • Be open to discussing our own biases

  • Don't be defensive

  • Stand up against all forms of discrimination

  • Listen to alternative view points and seek out interaction with people who are different from you.

  • In this article I use the term Trusted Adult multiple times - who do I mean? This might be a preferred teacher, your tutor or Head of Year. You might prefer to talk to an adult out of school, you may prefer for them to liaise with the school on your behalf.


I think this piece was so well written, perfect not only for young people but for adults. It certainly gave me something to think about. It may be that you are inadvertently causing harm without even knowing it.

I'm so proud to work in a school with an engaged, proactive student body. A couple of our older students decided to deliver an assembly to our Year 7s on microaggressions, and provided some examples. This is what they came up with:

  • “Your English is really good”

  • “Where are you REALLY from?”

  • Lack of effort when pronouncing ethnic names/ failure to learn.

  • Colour blindness - “I don’t see race.”

  • “You don’t look/talk like *insert race*”

  • “You are _____ for *insert race*”

  • Phrases such as “you people”

  • Denial of individual racism: “I have black friends”

  • Touching black people’s hair

  • Trying to erase poc’s experiences when in discussion

  • Imitating accents that are not yours

  • Singling out minority in classroom setting as a result of topic

  • Narrative of aggressive, annoying or overbearing Persons of Colour


Finally, I thought I'd share a short video I saw last year made by BBC Sport. Again, I think hearing or reading about personal accounts makes it more engaging and encourages empathetic. And when it is delivered by high-profile, successful sportspeople, it makes it even more poignant.

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