Subtle acts of exclusion or microaggressions are brief, everyday interactions that send denigrating messages to people, which are subtle and insidious, often leaving the victim confused, distressed, and frustrated. The perpetrator is oblivious to the offense they have caused and is often only noticeable to the individual being targeted. They can be intentional or unintentional that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults to a person or group.
If unchallenged, any forms of exclusion can have a negative impact not only on individuals, but they can re-affirm stereotypes and perpetuate conscious or unconscious bias in others. Intent is not the same as impact, and a throw-away comment or joke can have a huge impact on another person. It is everyone’s responsibility to think about the impact that their words might have on someone else.
Examples may include (but are not limited to):
- Comments such as ‘you look so normal’ to a person with a disability
- Misgendering someone (especially after they have shared their pronouns)
- In the UK, asking someone from a Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic background “Where are you really from?”
- Backhanded compliments
- Avoiding or turning one's back on certain people
- Referring to a professional woman as a ‘girl’
- A lecturer in the class asking for a ‘strong man’ to help carry equipment
- Asking a black person if that is their ‘natural’ hair
- Catcalling or sexual objectification
- Endorsing religious stereotypes
- Casual use of derogatory slurs
- Assuming intellectual inferiority based on any of the protected characteristics such as disability, race, religion or belief, transgender identity, or sexual orientation
Learn more about how to recognise and tackle Microaggressions.