Maggie Stamets is a writer for BUILT BY GIRLS, which prepares the next generation of female and non-binary leaders to step into their power and break into their careers. WAVE is the backbone of BUILT BY GIRLS: it’s a 1:1 matching program that connects high school and college students with top tech professionals across the country. For more information and to sign up check out builtbygirls.com.
Eventually, we will all return back to our "near normal" lives at work and school. For marginalized people, it will also mean coming back to the inevitable micro-aggressions from coworkers and peers who just don't get it.
If you're unfamiliar, micro-aggressions are minor yet harmful, frequent derogatory comments and interactions that highlight hostile feelings towards a group or identity. The person making the micro-aggression might not think it’s hurtful or inappropriate because the bigotry is unconscious. However, these comments can be extremely damaging.
Here are three quick tips to combat these micro-aggressions.
Assess the situation
For a Black or marginalized person, not every comment is worth the possible risk of speaking up for themselves. If one of these comments is directed at you, ask yourself: If you respond, is your physical safety in danger? Could the person become defensive? Could this affect your job or personal relationship with that person?
For allies, the risk is usually a lot lower. If you're white, straight or cis-gendered, leverage your privilege and speak out against those comments. The conversation will be uncomfortable, but it's important not to let micro-aggressions go unchallenged.
Know what to say
It's difficult to know how to calmly disarm a micro-aggression in the moment but here are some statements and questions to try:
Ask for more clarification: “Could you say more about what you mean by that?” or “How have you come to think that?”
Separate intent from impact: “I know you didn’t realize this, but when you __________ (comment/behavior), it was hurtful/offensive because___________. Instead you could___________ (different language or behavior.)”
Share your own process: “I noticed that you ___________ (comment/behavior). I used to do/say that, too, but then I learned____________.”
Protect your energy by doing the things that recharge your batteries and make you feel good. This could be doing a face mask, FaceTiming good friends who know what you're going through, reading a book that has nothing to do with what’s going on, or reading a book to help educate yourself on what's going on. Whatever feels right to you, make time to care for yourself.
When we are all finally able to come back together, we can all work to make work, school, and public spaces safe and welcoming for everyone.
Read more information and tips in our Advice section