Hadeel Mishal On campus

Confronting Microagressions

What is a microagression? For me, it is a term I learned in college, but which I have long experienced as a Palestinian Muslim woman. Microagressions are "the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership," (Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development). 

Unfortunately, microagressions aren't uncommon for people who look different. Microagressions occur due to gender, sexuality, race, and religion, but there are ways to recognize and confront microagressions when we experience them or witness them.

Recognizing Microagressions

Microagressions communicate a negative message to a person based on perceived identity, even if that identity is inaccurate, such as the confusion of a Sikh for a Muslim. Microagressions can easily "other" a person. Something I hear all the time is, "Wow Hadeel, your English is amazing! How did you learn to speak it so well?" Now, at first, this may seem like a compliment, because they are commenting on how well I can articulate myself. However, this is a microagression because, for them, I wear a hijab and therefore must be a foreigner, when I was actually born and raised in the United States. Why would they expect any less than for me to be well-spoken?

Use this guide to recognize some more forms of microagression.

Confronting Microagressions

If you hear someone using a microagression, call them out on it. Be respectful, because you always need to give people the benefit of the doubt. They don't usually have bad intentions.

Start off by saying, "Hey, I think the way you said that statement can be misconstrued." Call out the person's words; don't accuse them of being a terrible person. Go on to explain how the statement is a microagression, and how they can say what they meant without offending you.

If that person is offended by getting called out, explain that you are attempting to meet them where they are, so they should do the same. A person should not get to say something offensive, and then claim that they are being attacked because you call them out.

You can also calmly ask them what they mean when they make a certain statement. By being patient with them and breaking it down, you will give people the chance to talk it out and realize where they went wrong.

Moving on from Here

You now have the tools to be an effective communicator concerning microagressions, so use these tools wisely. Always stay calm, avoid attacking people, and meet people where they are. It is amazing what the human heart is capable of through dialogue and patience.