"You're Pretty for a Black Girl!" and other Microaggressions
“Wow, you’re so well spoken!” “I love your hair. Can I touch it?”
“You’re pretty, for a Black girl!” “But where are you really from?”
I can remember the moment I heard each of these phrases spoken to me. All of them seemingly in a complimentary way, but coming across entirely as insulting. Let’s talk about microaggressions, fam.
Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups (NPR).
Microaggressions come from our own personal biases, which are, “...tendencies, inclinations, or prejudices towards or against something or someone,”(Psychology Today). Altogether, we have this set of beliefs and assumptions about people (we all do, it’s ok) and because of that, we respond to people and situations based on what we think is true about them. One of these responses is engaging in microaggressions.
But here’s the thing; our brains are hardwired to be biased (The Atlantic). Most of the basic, unconscious things we do are to maintain some safety and ensure survival. Our brains are meant to categorize things as good and bad, safe and unsafe, as a way of helping us stay alive. This is a great survival skill when it’s keeping you safe from impending doom. It’s not such a good thing when it becomes prejudice against and encourages microaggressions towards historically marginalized groups.
When people use microaggressions, they are coming from a place of bias and unconsciously saying, “You know, you’re not at all what my biased brain tells me you should be.” It’s important to remember that although microaggressions can be based on positive (All Asian people are super smart) or negative biases (Black people speak in slang), they’re still harmful for the person who is receiving them, regardless of intentions. Even though they are unconscious, we are not off the hook for addressing them.
How do we stop microaggressions in their tracks? A few things:
Call them out (safely): If you are being microaggressed by someone, point it out. I understand there are a lot of situations where this might be difficult (work, church, long-term friendships, families, etc.) but there are ways to gently set a firm boundary.
Think about your own biases: We’re all biased about something. One of the ways to lessen microaggressions is to identify and address the biases that we have towards groups of people or situations.
Spend time with different people: Once we start interacting with other people, we can challenge our beliefs about others and that may help us be less biased.
Apologize: If you realize you’ve microaggressed someone, apologize and do differently. Folks may not be ready for the apology, but it’s important to take ownership in the role we play in hurting others and making a conscious decision to change the behavior so it doesn’t happen again.
Take care: Some groups of folks receive a lot of microaggressions because they are members of multiple marginalized groups (POC, financial background, immigrant, LGBTQ+ folx, etc.). Make sure that you are doing things to care for yourself so that if they do come up, you’re able to make it through the situation.
If you want to learn more, join us for our free upcoming event, DEI Series: Managing Microaggressions on February 12th, 2022 at 10am where we’ll take a deep dive into microaggressions, how they are formed, their impact, and what we can do about them.
Bias Definition. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/bias
Limbong, A. (2020). Microaggressions are a big deal: How to talk them out and when to walk away. NPR Life Kit. NPR, Life Kit: Tools to Help You Get it Together. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/08/872371063/microaggressions-are-a-big-deal-how-to-talk-them-out-and-when-to-walk-away
Yagoda, B (2018). The Cognitive Biases Tricking Your Brain. The Atlantic, September Issue. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/cognitive-bias/565775/