The Reflection Pool

Microaggressions: They’re Real and They Hurt

“Where are you from?”

“I guess you wear the pants in the family.”

“You won’t have the natural authority to be a school administrator, so maybe you should think about a different career path.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the term microaggressions and wondered what it means. Maybe someone has brought it to your attention at work when speaking about the systemic barriers that marginalized groups face and you’ve thought, “Really?” I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought it was some new, trendy term. I woke up after Shakil Choudhury explained it. This video clip helped: How Microaggressions are Like Mosquito Bites – Same Difference

This term resonates with me, even though there are a few research and scientific criticisms of it. While the anti-racism and civil rights movements have gained some momentum, there’s still so much work to be done.  Systemic racism exists in our society.

If we deeply examine our thinking, we can see that every single one of us is biased and conditioned to believe things about groups of people. This might come out in our inner opinions about others or even in the casual remarks we make. We may not intend to hurt others, but the reality is that our words can really sting. They can give the subtle message that you don’t belong. That you’re not good enough. That you are “other”.

Changing this is hard. As with everything, the first step is a willingness to hold the mirror up to ourselves and understand our biases. That’s difficult work, but so worth it. Engage a friend who is willing to be honest with you. Listen to others’ reactions to what you say. Try not to be defensive.

I’m still on this journey and I’m sure I make mistakes.  What about you? Have you experienced microaggressions?

8 thoughts on “Microaggressions: They’re Real and They Hurt

  1. I sure have! Mostly about how I couldn’t be a good teacher because I don’t have children. I am always trying to identify my own biases and work towards changing them. I think this is important work for all people that interact with vulnerable people. It would be great pd also!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Carol. I agree that the learning would be great. I can recommend a great book: Deep Diversity by Shakil Choudhury that you may not have read.

    2. I absolutely loved being your teaching partner and know that the desire you have for your students to learn does not require you to be a parent yourself. I would love for you to teach my children! They would love your sense of humour!

  2. Sue,
    Myself and a Gr. 7 teacher at Hess we’re talking about this a few weeks ago in relation to marking students. We were talking about if it is truly possible to assess in a non biased way since we all bring biases with us that we may not even be aware of. I would love to tell you that I am fair, but am I even aware of when I am not?

    1. Kristy – this is such a good point. The first step for anyone is accepting that we are biased. The second is to actively pursue an understanding of how we are biased. Find a critical friend who can give honest feedback. Be aware of our thoughts when working with various groups and think about what we say – do we make generalizations or observations that are not based on what is really going on?

      I’m so glad to hear that teachers are thinking and talking about this in their professional practice. Keep going!

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