Microaggressions Are Not So Micro

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Author discusses her experiences with microaggressions in the workplace and calls for sustained efforts to enact change.
  • “What are you drawing in the patient’s chart? Gang signs?”
  • “You must understand the effects of marijuana since it’s a drug used by your people.”
  • “Hey, I am sure you know how to dance? Don’t all Black people?”
  • “You’re not like other Blacks. You are just like a White person.”
  • “You laugh just like a Black woman. They are always so loud.”

Merriam-Webster defines a microaggression as a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a marginalized group member. I, and many others, describe microaggressions as death by a thousand cuts because each insult compounds over time and exerts psychological harm.

There is nothing micro about the aggressions. The insults are sometimes blatant but may be subtle enough to make the victim question if a microaggression even occurred. I often find myself wondering, “Am I overreacting? Am I being too sensitive? Did this really happen because I am Black, a woman, or a Black woman?”

The slow, gruesome death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, brought the fight against systemic racism to the forefront of many minds in America and worldwide. Many healthcare systems and companies were quick to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committees and follow the #BlackLivesMatter movement. However, we need actual systemic change instead of empty platitudes Many organizations and institutions are falling back into their old ways despite continuing to release diversity statements and advertise support for every cultural month celebration.

It was refreshing that many who did not see the inequities racial minorities were facing were joining in the fight against systemic racism. In 2022, many who joined the fight now have DEI fatigue and are no longer openly supporting racial/ethnic minorities. The fervor that existed during 2020 has faded. Many allies were invited into a safe space for ethnic/racial minorities, and many have also been the perpetrators of the aggressive behavior of microaggressions.

The fatigue of the new allies only increases the work of the minority population and, often, creates a subtle hostile work environment. It is gaslighting. People show support for change but have not made any substantial changes. Diversity is more than hiring racial/ethnic minorities or starting DEI committees. People should feel a sense of belonging.

I implore all allies to continue with the same fire that was present in 2020. Without the persistence of everyone, no changes will occur.

Microaggression Resources

Videos
  1. TEDxOakland. Eliminating Microaggressions: The Next Level of Inclusion.
  2. Sue DW. Microaggressions in Everyday Life.
  3. Focused Arts Media Education. Microaggressions in the Classroom.  
  4. Pacific Lutheran University. How Do You Respond to Microaggressions? The Listen Campaign.
  5. Wisconsin Technical College System. Responding to Microaggressions.
Websites
  1. The Micropedia: resource on microaggressions and their impact
  2. The George Washington University Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement:  Resources on Implicit Biases and Microaggressions

Kimberly Sapre, DMSc, PA-C, CAQ-EM, practices emergency medicine in Falls Church, Virginia. She has 10 years of experience as a PA with previous experience in neurosurgery and interventional pain medicine.

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor