Microaggressions is not a new subject for me. I’ve written and spoke about it more than a few times:
And now that we’re working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are seeing a resurgence of micro-aggressive behavior toward marginalized people arising out of greater exposure to people’s intimate spaces thru video calls.
Comments about hair stylings, accessories, and coverings
Comments about food choices
Comments about home decor and the surrounding living environment
Comments about partners, children and pets
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Microaggressions are defined as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
The reason it is called micro is because microaggressions are less extreme and immediately harmful than being beaten or lynched or shot to death or other having your property stolen or destroyed. The latter are macro-aggressive things. “Micro” is used to highlight that the incidents are less overt, less extreme, and possibly unintentional in the harm caused. The harm of microaggressions comes from the prolonged, repeated exposure — versus the immediate harm that comes from the “macro” things.
But make no mistake: there is harm from microaggressions … Being stared at, followed, touched without permission, interrupted, dismissed, ignored, slurred, and accosted day in, day out, for year and years and years absolutely takes a toll.
Just because the research on it is still new and developing doesn’t make it false … People once thought Earth was flat — and they laughed at the new, developing research that showed you wouldn’t fall off the planet when you hit the horizon. Prevailing theories that we’ve held as factual and true can be proven incorrect and can expire.
Microaggressions absolutely is one such theory. I believe that wholeheartedly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened much of our workforce to a new surge of microaggressions by inviting coworkers as unwelcomed guests in their homes thru video-chatting and -meetings. Through the webcams on our phones and computers, our bosses and co-workers can see our families and furniture. They can hear the background noise from our neighborhoods. They see us with our hair, faces and clothes less put together than usual due to the closure of the shops and salons that help us look most presentable to the mainstream world … And in trying to connect or correct us, our bosses and coworkers make comments about it.
Employees are unsure what to do about it because of the 1) typical unintentional nature of microaggressions, 2) unlikelihood of being believed, and 3) fear of discipline or retaliation. No one wants to rock the boat too hard in a time when people are being furloughed without knowing when they’ll be able to return and laid-off in a job market full of uncertainty, especially when states are experiencing record delays in approving and processing unemployment claims.
Leaders and HR departments have to step up in this moment to protect employees from microaggressions. Here’s a few tips to help you do it:
Don’t have a policy for Microaggressions yet??
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If you experience micro-aggressive behavior while you’re working, here’s what you can do:
This likely will feel like heavy emotional labor for the person who was microaggressed … because it is!
This is not fair or equitable — but unfortunately, the process for resolving workplace offenses usually isn’t. Too much burden is placed on those already hurt and marginalized in these circumstances. And that’s because our leaders are ill-equipped to address and break the cycle of supremacy and patriarchy that underlies our workplace processes and systems.
The best way to combat this is for employers to educate their workforce against these behaviors before they happen. And for leaders and HR departments to place the burden of correcting these issues where it belongs when microaggression incidents are brought to their attention … Even after the end of my #BlackBlogsMatter challenge, I remain committed to helping Business Leaders and HR professionals do this.
Working thru the COVID-19 pandemic is tough enough. Don’t let microaggressions compound the hardships our employees face.