Cultura RM Exclusive/Lilly Bloom Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive
By Ellen McGirt
March 14, 2019

Hello! You clean, well-spoken over-achievers, who I don’t think of as having a race because I don’t see color and are sooooo good looking for a <leans in and whispers> … well, you know.

I just insulted you! A lot! Sure, they may have sounded like compliments, but they’re not. At all. And in the workplace, they can make people miserable and drive them away.

Columbia professor Derald Wing Sue has done research on the comments better known as microaggressions, which are, in his terms, “the everyday slights, indignities, put-downs, and invalidations that people of color experience in their day-to-day interactions with well-meaning people who are unaware that they’ve delivered a put-down,” he says.

Although he concedes that some people are aware of their bias when they deliver their zingers, his studies indicate that it’s the unintentional forms that are the most damaging to people of color. (And I would imagine, to anyone who is not of the majority culture.)

Either way, “microaggressions, really, are reflections of world views,” Sue told PBS. “Inclusion, exclusion, superiority, inferiority.” Sue, who was born and raised in Portland, Ore. says people will often pester him to find out where he is really from. They may be trying to make a personal connection he says, or even deliver a compliment – “Wow, you speak such good English!” – but the microaggression reveals their true world view. “I am a perpetual alien or foreigner in my country. I am not a true American, because true Americans look the following way. That’s what generates these behaviors.”

For the recipient, it’s an exhausting reminder of their “otherness” at work. And for microaggressors, it’s an embarrassing blind spot that if unchecked erodes their ability to lead, not to mention, hit their diversity targets.

RaceAhead is partnering with the good folks at SurveyMonkey on a survey of workers about their experience with, and understanding of, microaggressions. Before we begin, we’d love your input.

What information about microaggressions would help you be more effective at work?

Drop your questions anonymously here, (or just vent, you know I love that) and I’ll pass it along. The abstract is below. And when the survey is ready, I’ll be sure to give you a chance to weigh in.

People from underrepresented groups feel targeted by behaviors, actions, and statements that exclude, demean, or insult them. Also known as microaggressions, these acts aren’t direct enough to be labelled harassment, but range from subtle slights like talking over someone to more explicit forms of hostility such as making derogatory remarks. They communicate negative messages about members of underrepresented groups—often that they are less competent and don’t belong.

Microaggressions can be conscious or unconscious, but when they compound, they result in employees feeling uncomfortable or threatened, or even possibly leaving the company.

But microaggressions are hard to address when you don’t know what they are—or how big of an impact they make. This research will attempt to answer both.

 

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