Hi there! Lisa here. To continue our social relationships series, I’m going to talk about an important issue that your kids will encounter and that may not have even been on your radar – microaggressions. As your child’s relationship coach, it’s important that you understand what microaggressions are, how to talk with your kids about them, and how to help them cope when microaggressions happen.
Not quite sure what microaggressions are? Have you ever left an interaction feeling like you were discriminated against, but you couldn’t point to the specific statement or behavior that made you feel that way? Or have you ever gotten the feeling that another person has reacted subtly but negatively to you based on your race, gender, disability, etc.? If so, you may have experienced a microaggression.
Psychologist and researcher in the field of multicultural psychology, Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D. defines microaggressions as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.”
Microaggressions are often discussed in the context of race or ethnicity, but they frequently happen to people of anymarginalized group. The point of microaggressions is that they are subtle and often unintentional. They are very different from overt discrimination or hate speech. In many cases, the person is not necessarily aware that they are showing particular biases. Many microaggressions stem from subtle biases that we have been taught since birth and often seem like “just they way things are.” Their subtle nature makes microaggressions much more difficult to recognize and to confront.
Some examples of verbal microaggressions include:
“What are you?” or “Where are you really from?”
“You’re good at math for a girl.”
“I couldn’t tell you were gay.”
“Can I touch your hair?”
Teaching your kids to be “color blind.”
Microaggressions are not just words- they are also apparent in behavior. Some examples include:
Talking loudly and slowly to someone who is blind.
Holding your purse close or locking your door when a person of color walks by
Excluding girls from a math- or science-based activity
Expecting the member of a marginalized group to speak on behalf of all members of their group
Obviously, experiencing microaggressions has negative effects on an individual’s overall well-being. It’s also very difficult to know how to address microaggressions when you experience them. Many people struggle with deciding whether to even address the issue or to let it go. They may be unsure whether anything even happened or whether addressing the issue will backfire. When someone does choose to address a microaggression, it may be met with defensiveness, accusations of being oversensitive or misunderstanding the speaker. This is often (but not always) because the speaker does not realize that they have said something offensive and did not intend to degrade or marginalize another person. In fact, many microaggressions sound like compliments on the surface (e.g., “He’s very articulate,” or “You’re very pretty in an exotic way”), which makes it even more difficult to call attention to the fact that these kinds of comments are problematic.
If adults have such a hard time managing microaggressions, how can they help their kids? While it may not be comfortable to think about, your kids are going to experience microaggressions and at times, they may even commit them. It may be tempting to tell yourself that this is not an issue you or your kids will have to deal with because you’re not part of a marginalized group. In reality, many people experience microaggressions if they are part of a group that is not considered “mainstream.” Even if that doesn’t sound like you or your kids, learning about microaggressions will help you empathize with those who do experience them, and it will help you avoid committing them.
Although dealing with bullies or overt hate speech can be tough, these issues may be pretty straightforward for many parents. Microaggressions, on the other hand, may feel less clear cut and it can be difficult to know how to help your kids with these issues. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you have these conversations with your kids:
If you’d like to learn more about microaggressions, take a look at this short article by Dr. Derald Wing Sue.
Here’s a link to his bio on Psychology Today with additional resources to help you learn more about this and related topics:
How do you talk to your kids about subtle forms of discrimination? Leave a comment below, click this link or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for a printable version of this post.
As a reminder, we have an amazing handout for families with information about COVID-19 that you may find helpful when speaking with your kids. Click here to take a look.
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