Healing the Wounds of Micro-Aggressions

by Wendy Millstine

The book publishing company that I work for is finally getting on board with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training from top to bottom. It’s long overdue, and I’m personally excited to be learning more about racial awareness and tackling this important issue for the future of the company. As part of our work DEI efforts, I recently attended two DEI training courses—one on micro-aggressions and the other was on inclusive collaboration in the workplace. Both were informative but what stood out as most critical was being introduced to a new term known as micro-inclusions, which is kind of like the opposite act of a micro-aggression. Micro-inclusions might just be the antidote to microaggressions, by way of acknowledging the humanity in everyone. In other words, if micro-aggressions have the effect of excluding others, micro-inclusions have the potential to include.

In case these terms are both new to you, I’ll offer some simple definitions and examples.

According to Forge, an organization that works to build strength and resilience in our transgender communities, they define a micro-aggression as:

“brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities –  whether intentional or unintentional – that communicate derogatory or negative slights and insults (or even some hostility) toward a group of people.  These words and actions establish, reflect, and reinforce the dominant paradigm, erasing the experiences and realities of a minority.”

It’s important to remember that micro-aggressions can occur anywhere and any place, not just the workplace. Any social setting can be a place where someone may experience a micro-aggression. Micro-aggressions can be based on race, gender, sexual orientation, class, disability, and any other marginalized status.

Here’s some examples of micro-aggressions:

  • A young man assumes that an older coworker doesn’t know about social media and makes a derogatory remark that leaves them out of the conversation.
  • A person uses the term “lame” to describe a movie that they didn’t like.
  • A woman clutches her bag when she sees a Black man approaching on the street.

Micro-aggressions can show up in the form of inappropriate jokes, malicious comments, singling‐out someone, and stereotyping, just to list of a few.

The short definition for a micro-inclusion is a small step towards including someone. Forge offers another helpful definition:

“Micro-inclusions are small steps to include someone who might be on the margins.  They are symbolic actions that force us to recall the humanity of others.”

Below are some tips and strategies for practicing inclusivity with others, including family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and strangers:

  • Pause and listen to others
  • Find ways to create safe space for others
  • Resist judgment and bias
  • Avoid making assumptions about people by asking yourself what assumptions you might be making in each interaction
  • It’s okay to ask someone, “What’s your lived experience?”
  • Believe and receive other people’s experiences
  • Lean into your vulnerability
  • Practice your empathy for others
  • Notice how different our lived experiences are (neither right nor wrong)
  • Notice how different our communication styles are (neither better or worse)
  • Take note of your personal identities with race, gender, ability, culture, sexual orientation, privilege, and power and so on
  • Bring awareness to other people’s unique and different identities along race, gender, ability, culture, privilege, and power
  • Be open to feedback, even if feels uncomfortable
  • Let people know what pronouns you use. It’s okay to ask people what pronouns they use (not prefer)
  • Be mindful of how much space and time that you take up when engaging with others
  • It’s helpful to open conversations with “This is my experience as an XYZ…” (for example, white, cis-gendered, woman)
  • It’s helpful to ask people in a group: “How can I make this gathering more inclusive for everyone here?”
  • Practice validation by expressing your appreciation for everyone’s unique perspective and ideas. Even if you disagree with other people’s opinions, inclusion can only happen when we validate our differing ideas, without passing judgment

These small acts can have a huge impact on making someone feel more included. When we make a space safe and inclusive, we open up opportunities for everyone to speak up and be heard, which in turn builds trust. Remember to make room for someone different from you, someone who may experience feeling left out. The key is learning to acknowledge one’s own biases, and becoming aware of how this is playing out for others with different life experiences.

We might not be able to end micro-aggressions in society but we can start repairing the racial wounds left behind by racism when we commit to small, daily acts of inclusion.


Forge: https://forge-forward.org/

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