How Practitioners Can Better Manage Microaggressions

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This post was co-authored by Sarah MacLaughlin, LSW, and Rahil Briggs, Psy.D.

Despite increased awareness of the need for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, including in healthcare and mental health settings, there is still a long way to go to move from a spectator to an observer. One way to work towards this goal is to speak up when you hear microaggressions. Practitioners who find themselves wanting and/or having to express themselves often find it difficult to do so.

What are microaggressions?

The first thing to know is that they are not actually “micro”, although they can be subtle (Hackworth et al., 2021). These are usually slights, insults, insults and signs of disrespect which, although “small”, have a profound cumulative negative effect on the recipient (Hackworth et al., 2021). Many people who commit microaggressions may not be aware that they are doing it. This phenomenon may result from the fact that their biases are implicit and therefore hidden in a blind spot of their perception (Benaji, 2016).

For those experiencing microaggressions, it is difficult to weigh both the emotional and professional costs of saying something, as they have not created the prevalent systems of oppression and are likely already disadvantaged by them (Hackworth et al. , 2021) . This is why bystander intervention can be so important, especially for those who are considered “privileged observers” (Hackworth et al., 2021). Here are some scenarios and tips for staying aware and engaged to be part of the solution:

  • Dig out your blind spots. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” The many implicit association tests organized by the Implicit Project at Harvard University will show you what you don’t know about your own unconscious bias – a great starting point for discovering the widespread impact of bias.
  • Speak up when you hear biased or micro-aggressive statements. Remember that negative stereotypes and inherent inequities and biases can impact a person’s ability or desire to initiate what might be considered a conflict or “call”. For example, if a male coworker tells a black coworker in a meeting to “not be so emotional,” be aware that she is up against a pervasive “angry black woman” trope and can strategically decide not to. say in his own defense. , even though she is well aware that the comment was inappropriate and hurtful (Hackworth et al., 2021). If you observe this but say nothing at the time, due to discomfort and/or the various implications of doing so, you may choose to stay after the meeting to share your concern, or you may email the party afterwards and request a meeting (Hackworth et al., 2021).
  • Assume a positive intention. Approach your concerns with this in mind and aim not to confront yourself. Jamilah Hackworth, an educator at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, suggests starting with a scenario similar to this:

“I wanted to tell you about the comment you made to Dr Smith at the meeting this morning. John, I have known you for some time, and I know you would never deliberately say anything to offend another person; however , it was very offensive to me when you interrupted Dr. Smith as she was giving her point of view and told her “it would be best if you left your emotions out of the discussion”. is overly emotional when expressing disagreement is problematic and hurtful…” (Hackworth et al., 2021).

  • Keep in mind the parallel process. While this discussion may not seem relevant to babies and toddlers, the focus of this article and our multigenerational work at HealthySteps is anti-racism and has the potential to improve the lives of future generations. The more individuals dig into their own internal, unseen biases and move past their discomfort by speaking out, the more inclusive their workplaces and families will become – a ripple effect that strengthens relationships and builds community.
  • Work towards larger systems changes. Keep in mind that people from underrepresented groups can experience significant stress when they feel the need to fit into a work environment – ​​and its systems, structures and policies – whose norms have been centered on white culture (and cis, masculine and heteronormative identities). (Acholonu, 2020).

Although it may be uncomfortable, when you speak as a bystander, you begin to take on the role of a bystander, perhaps reducing and at least sharing the burden of disrupting racism, bias, or microaggression, and lightening the burden on the marginalized person. or group (Hackworth et al., 2021).

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