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Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression: Responding to Microaggressions


Microaggressions are "brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue, 2010). Often described as "death by a thousand cuts," the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive impact of microaggressions is cumulative and over time results in harmful psychological and physiological effects for targeted individuals.

Types of Microaggressions

Microaggressions take three forms: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations (James-Turner & Galloway, 2020).

Microassaults are overt and conscious-explicit or subtle slights and insults expressed to marginalized groups. Microassaults can be:

  • Verbal (e.g. name-calling and the use of epithets)
  • Nonverbal (e.g. behavioral discrimination such as crossing the street or clutching a handbag in the presence of certain individuals)
  • Environmental (e.g. offensive signs, posters, or other visual displays)

Microinsults are often covert and unconscious, meant to tear down a person’s identity through insensitive comments and the use of stereotypes. Examples include:

  • Ascription of intelligence (e.g. unintelligent or smarter than average based on appearance or accent)
  • Assumption of criminality (e.g. guarding belongings more carefully when around certain groups or expressing fear of certain groups)
  • Assumption of immorality (e.g. assuming that poor people, undereducated people, LGBTQ people, or people of color are more likely to be devious, untrustworthy, or unethical)
  • Making judgments about belonging (e.g. assuming people are foreign or don’t speak English well because of their appearance; questioning someone’s membership status such as “you don’t look disabled” or “you don’t seem that gay to me” or “if you were Jewish, wouldn’t you do x?”)

Microinvalidations are often covert or unconscious and used to cancel the thoughts, feelings, and lived experiences of marginalized individuals. Examples include:

  • Denial of racial reality (e.g. dismissing claims that race was relevant to understanding a student’s experience)
  • Denial or devaluing of experience or culture (e.g. ignoring the existence, histories, cultures of groups of people – assuming that others are like you)

[Examples from:]

Microinterventions and Other Responses


From Responding to Microaggressions in the Classroom: Taking ACTION by Tasha Souza

  • Ask clarifying questions to assist with understanding intentions.
  • Come from curiosity, not judgment.
  • Tell what you observed as problematic in a factual manner.
  • Impact exploration: ask for, and/or state, the potential impact of such a statement or action on others.
  • Own your own thoughts and feelings around the impact.
  • Next steps: Request appropriate action be taken

OTFD - Open The Front Door

Ganote, Cheung, and Souza, 2015; learn more in How to be an Ally by Kerry Ann Rockquemore

  • Observe: Describe clearly and succinctly what you see happening.
  • Think: State what you think about it.
  • Feel: Express your feelings about the situation.
  • Desire: Assert what you would like to happen.


From How to Respond to Racial Microaggressions When They Occur by J. Luke Wood & Frank Harris III

  • Redirect the conversation or interaction
  • Ask probing questions
  • Values clarification
  • Emphasizing your own thoughts
  • Next steps

Learn More

"A Guide to Responding to Microaggressions." Women in Engineering. Grainger College of Engineering, University of Illinois.

"Addressing microaggressions in the classroom. Teaching in Spring 2020: Macro/Microaggressions and COVID-19" Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Washington.

Berk, Ronald A. "Microaggressions trilogy: Part 1. Why do microaggressions matter?." The Journal of Faculty Development 31, no. 1 (2017): 63.

Berk, Ronald A. "Microaggressions trilogy: Part 2. Microaggressions in the academic workplace." The Journal of Faculty Development 31, no. 2 (2017): 69.

Berk, Ronald A. "Microaggressions Trilogy: Part 3. Microaggressions in the Classroom." The Journal of Faculty Development 31, no. 3 (2017): 95-110.

Souza, Tasha. "Responding to Microaggressions in the Classroom: Taking ACTION." Faculty Focus, 30 April, 2018.

Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.

Sue, Derald Wing, Christina M. Capodilupo, Gina C. Torino, Jennifer M. Bucceri, Aisha Holder, Kevin L. Nadal, and Marta Esquilin. "Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice." American psychologist 62, no. 4 (2007): 271.

Sue, Derald Wing, Sarah Alsaidi, Michael. N. Awad, Elizabeth Glaeser, Cassandra Z. Calle, and Narolyn Mendez. “Disarming Racial Microaggressions: Microintervention Strategies for Targets, White Allies, and Bystanders.” American Psychologist 74 no. 1 (2019): 128-142.

Wood, J. Luke, and Frank Harris. "How to Respond to Racial Microaggressions When They Occur." Diverse Issues in Higher Education. 5 May, 2020.


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