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Mental Mondays: What To Know About Racial Microaggressions

Mental Mondays: What To Know About Racial Microaggressions



acial microaggressions are subtle every day, often unintentional, behaviors or comments that convey derogatory or negative messages to individuals of a different race or ethnicity. They can take many forms, like verbal, behavioral, or environmental. While racial microaggressions may seem small or insignificant, their cumulative effect can be harmful and contribute to systemic racism.

It’s essential to understand the concept of racial microaggressions because they can have a significant impact on a person and community. These microaggressions can erode self-esteem, create feelings of isolation, and contribute to chronic stress, all of which can affect someone’s mental health and well-being.

For instance, imagine a person of color often told they speak English “so well” or they “don’t look like they’re from here.” While these comments may be intended as compliments or born from curiosity, they imply that the person is not truly American or capable of speaking English fluently. Over time, these microaggressions can chip away at the person’s sense of belonging and create feelings of otherness.

In another instance, a Black employee might be regularly overlooked for promotion opportunities despite their qualifications, while their white counterparts with similar credentials are routinely advanced. This can contribute to a feeling of unfairness, lower morale, and decreased motivation, which ultimately impacts their professional success and opportunities.

It’s also important to note that the effects of racial microaggressions are not limited to the people who experience them. Microaggressions can have a ripple effect, creating a negative impact on communities and perpetuating systemic racism.

Check out three forms of racial microaggressions…

#1. Micro assaults

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These are overt and intentional forms of discrimination, such as using racial slurs or physical violence. While they are not subtle, like other forms of microaggressions, they still contribute to the larger system of racism and can have a severe impact on individuals. For instance, a black person might be physically attacked or verbally assaulted with racial slurs. These forms of micro assaults are not only harmful but can also be traumatizing and affect one’s sense of safety and well-being.

#2. Micro insults

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These are subtle, often unintentional comments or behaviors that convey a negative message about a person’s race or ethnicity. These comments can be dismissive or derogatory, and imply that the person does not belong or is incapable.
For example, a Black student might be told they got into a prestigious university only because of affirmative action or that they are “articulate for a Black person.” These comments can create feelings of resentment and isolation, and undermine a person’s achievements.

#3. Micro invalidations

Photo: Yan Krukau/Pexels

Micro invalidations are comments or behaviors that negate or undermine one’s experiences, feelings, or identity. They can be dismissive or belittling, and imply that a person’s experiences are not valid or significant. For instance, a person of color might be told they are overreacting to an incident of racism or that their experiences are not important. These comments can make individuals feel unsupported and unheard and can undermine their confidence and sense of self.

Impact of racial microaggressions

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Microaggressions can have a significant impact on individuals, both in the short and long term. Here are some of its impacts:

  • Lowered self-esteem and confidence: Microaggressions can create feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Over time, they can erode one’s self-esteem and confidence, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-worth.
  • Stress and anxiety: It can also generate chronic stress and anxiety for someone, which can contribute to physical and mental health issues. The stress caused can lead to higher levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress which can affect sleep patterns, digestion, and immune function.
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness: Racial microaggressions can create feelings of isolation. This leads to an individual feeling like they don’t belong or aren’t accepted. This can contribute to a lack of social support, feelings of loneliness, and ultimately, impact general well-being.
  • Physical health issues: Chronic stress caused by racial microaggressions can contribute to physical health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • Negative impact on professional success: It can contribute to a lack of opportunities for people, particularly in professional settings. For example, if a person of color is repeatedly passed over for promotion opportunities, it can lead to frustration and a sense of unfairness, ultimately impacting their professional success.

How to address racial microaggressions

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Addressing these racial issues requires a combination of individual and systemic actions. One can take steps to address microaggressions when they occur, and organizations can create policies and practices that promote equity and inclusivity. Here are some strategies for addressing racial microaggressions

  • Educate yourself and others: Educating yourself and others about microaggressions and their impacts is crucial to addressing the problem. Take time to learn about different forms of microaggressions and their effects, and share this knowledge with others. Discussing the issue openly and honestly creates a shared understanding and promotes accountability.

  • Speak up: When you witness a microaggression, speak up and address it. This can be challenging, but it’s essential to create a culture where the issue is not tolerated. If you’re not comfortable addressing the situation directly, consider seeking support from a colleague or ally.
  • Practice active listening: When someone shares their experiences, listen actively and validate their experiences. Avoid dismissing or minimizing the matter, and acknowledge the impact of microaggressions on individuals and communities.
  • Advocate for change: Advocating for systemic change is critical to addressing microaggressions. This can include advocating for policies that promote equity and inclusivity, such as diversity training or hiring practices that promote diverse representation.

Featured image: hachiware/iStock

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