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Jonathan Kanter featured in this Right as Rain article on Microaggressions.

What Microaggressions Are and How to Prevent Them


No one wants to be that person. The one who is well-intentioned but ends up saying something offensive.

Maybe you asked a new coworker where they’re from — no, where they’re really from. Maybe you joked to a friend of color about them acting like a white person. Or maybe you asked your bisexual friend if she’s really bi because she’s dating a man.

The hard truth is that, while we don’t intend things like this to be offensive, most of us are capable of unknowingly committing these kinds of microaggressions that are harmful to people who are different from us in some way.

What are microaggressions?

Microaggressions are everyday insults, demeaning messages and indignities perpetrated by an often well-intentioned person in a dominant group against a person in a minority group.

The “everyday” part of the definition is important, because microaggressions aren’t the same as overt racism, homophobia or other bias. They aren’t intended to cause harm and the person perpetuating them probably has no idea they just said something offensive. What makes microaggressions offensive isn’t the exact words or actions but instead the underlying meaning that reveals bias.

Take the example mentioned above asking a coworker where they’re really from. You might think you’re just showing interest in their life by asking a common question. But to them, your insistence on not believing their first answer shows that you made an assumption about their homeland based on their appearance; maybe that because their skin is dark they can’t be “from” the United States.

People of all different identities can experience microaggressions. Though the term originally referenced white-on-black offenses (and that’s still important to note), anyone who is part of a minority group in some way can be affected.

That’s because of intersectionality, a concept that recognizes how all of our intersecting identities — like race, gender, sexuality, class and more — interact. Each of us has a unique intersection of identities, which means we all have the capacity to believe harmful stereotypes about people who have different lived experiences than we do.

Jonathan Kanter , a clinical psychologist and director of the Center for the Science of Social Connection at the University of Washington, uses an iceberg analogy to explain how microaggressions fit into the bigger picture of prejudice. The tip of the iceberg is overt racism, sexism or homophobia, which is visible and unmistakable. Microaggressions are the harder-to-see biases that lurk under the surface, more common than overt racism but less detectable. The sea the iceberg floats in is the bias enabled by society and institutions.

Read the entire article here .