Responding to Microaggressions

Microaggressions are one outgrowth of implicit bias. Columbia University’s Derald Wing Sue defines this term as “prejudices that leak out in many interpersonal situations and decision points”; they are experienced as “slights, insults, indignities, and denigrating messages.” -From Edutopia article, Implicit Bias and Microaggressions.

In a 2007 article for American Psychologist, Sue and other researchers identified three categories of racial microaggressions:

  • A microassault is a “verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discriminatory actions.” Example: Students wear Confederate flag clothing.

  • A microinsult is insensitive communication that demeans someone’s racial identity, signaling to people of color that “their contributions are unimportant.” Example: A teacher corrects the grammar only of Hispanic children.

  • A microinvalidation involves negating or ignoring the “psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person of color.” Example: An Asian American student from the U.S. is asked where she was born, which conveys the message that she is not really an American.

Over the years, the concept has been extended beyond race to include similar events and experiences of other marginalized groups, including women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, etc.

Microaggressions in the Classroom

Reflection Activity

Try responding to and/or doing the following:

  • Have you ever been the victim of a microaggression? How did it make you feel?

  • What are some ways a teacher can avoid/combat microaggression in the classroom?

  • Practice responding to microaggressions with this CSTeachingTips Activity.