question shard
yes shard
no shard
black background

But, what are microaggressions?

A microaggression is a comment or gesture (whether made intentionally or not) that feeds into stereotypes or negative assumptions created around oppressed or marginalized groups of people.

It can also be defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.

black shard

Originally applied to describe insults against Black Americans and women. Later became largely accepted as a way for people to talk about a wide range of issues related to discrimination, offense, and exclusion against any marginalized group.

shard shape

Examples of microaggressions

Prof. Derald W. Sue demonstrates an example of microaggressions towards Asian Americans and Latin Americans, who are frequently complimented for ‘speaking good English,’

But there is a hidden communication the target experiences: ‘You speak excellent English’ to the target says 'You are not a true American. You're a perpetual alien in your own country'.

What makes microaggressions different from other rude or insensitive actions or comments?

Green Shad on the right

Microaggressions are more than just insults, insensitive comments, or generalized jerky behavior.
They're something very specific: the kinds of remarks, questions, or actions that are painful because they have to do with a person's membership in a group that's discriminated against or subject to stereotypes.

And a key part of what makes them so disconcerting is that they happen:

casually frequently without any harm intended in everyday life
Green Shad on the left

Oftentimes, people don't even realize that they're doing those sorts of things.
And in fact, if you were to stop them and say, 'Why did you grab your purse when this person got closer?'
They would deny it because they don't recognize that their behaviors communicate their racial biases.

Common characteristics of Microaggressions

Microaggressions appear in a myriad of ways, they can be examined across many different dimensions of diversity, whether it be gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age, disability, and religion.

But there are common traits and hidden messages that are being communicated by the sender of the microaggressions. Authors M. Barren and T. Jana have listed the following:


In many cases, Microaggressions are committed by people who are trying to be good people.

Their intentions don’t have to be bad. Their intention is usually not to communicate: “You are a threat”, but rather they want to:



show comfort:


be funny:


be curious:


One of the reasons that microaggressions are expressed even though the speaker’s intention might be a good or benign one, is, that we all have unconscious (or implicit) biases (more in regards to that in the glossary)

Other forms of Microaggressions

Microassaults are the most overt microaggressions. With microassaults, the person committing the microaggression acted intentionally and knew their behavior might be hurtful. For example, using a derogatory term to refer to a person of color would be a microassault.

Microinsults are more subtle than microassaults, but nevertheless have harmful effects on marginalized group members. For example, Sue et al. write, a microinsult could involve a comment implying that a woman or person of color received their job due to affirmative action.

Microinvalidations are comments and behaviors that deny the experiences of marginalized group members. One common microaggression involves insisting that prejudice is no longer a problem in society: Derald Wing Sue et al. write that a microinvalidation could involve telling a person of color that they are being “oversensitive” to a racist comment that was made.

Wait, has this ever happened to you as well?

What is the most important sentence/act that comes to your mind?

What harms do Microaggressions cause?

“We do find the current climate in which it is hard to talk about sensitive issues problematic. We do want to find a way to create a culture where people can openly discuss sensitive topics, thinking more about the underlying concepts and feelings and less about the specific words that people use. However, we also agree that the subtle ways that verbal and nonverbal acts serve to exclude people have real and serious consequences, both in the moment and cumulatively.” (SAE)

Most of the time, such microinvalidations and aggressions are disguised as humor.

Often you might feel irritated and 'othered' by such comments and questions. You then question your own judgment and your reaction, and wonder if you were indeed over-reacting. But, making fun of someone's accent, height or ethnicity is not a joke. The intent might not be malicious, and it is mostly born out of ignorance, but such comments tend to reinforce the differences and the non-conformity of any minority community from the majority demographic.

What is stereotype threat?

Psychologists and educators have shown that "stereotype threat" can cause an achievement gap. When a negative stereotype is associated with a certain group that a person is naturally assigned membership of because of their skin color, gender or race, it has been shown to have an impact not only on a person's performance but also their well-being. Studies in the psychology of stigma have shown how such a "stereotype threat" can create feelings of anxiety, and have a serious impact on a person's mental health and well-being.

The call to downplay microaggressions also underestimates the powerful effect of sanctioning them instead. Calling out microaggressions can serve as a deterrent. From the perspective of social-justice advocates, accountability incentivizes more thoughtful communication across lines of gender, race, sexuality, and gender identity. It codifies the empathy that can help lead to a more inclusive atmosphere.

How can microaggressions be disarmed


Calling someone out by pointing to the underlying homophobia, racism or sexism in their behaviours, oftentimes results in a very defensive reaction that prevents them from actually recognising the impact of their actions. This is due to the underlying subconscious nature or implicit biases of microaggressions


green circle

It’s difficult to address Microaggressions, because they occur so quickly they are oftentimes over before one can formulate a response or intervene. Dr. Goodman proposes three tactics which can be memorised for tackling Microaggressions:

green circle
green circle
green circle

One principle underlying these statements is helping the aggressor understand she or he is not under attack for their comment.

“If we want people to hear what we’re saying and potentially change their behavior, we have to think about things that will not immediately make them defensive,”

Dr. Goodman said.

How can people who are affected by microaggressions react?

If you find yourself in a situation in which you are confronted by microaggressions, such like a difficult dialogue:

First, think about whether or not it is worth continuing to talk to that person

question shard
no shard

A lot of times people get into arguments with people they don't need to necessarily be emotionally invested in because they don't have that sort of relationship.

yes shard

If you are close and if you do have a relationship it might be important just to say,
'Look I feel like we're both getting really emotionally charged right now. I don't feel like I'm able to hear what you are saying. I don't feel that you're able to hear what I'm saying.
So maybe we need to table this and talk another time.'

Or maybe offer to give them something they could read - that could be more helpful or effective than a conversation that might just turn into yelling and hostality.