As a mediator, I must be careful with the words I use during a mediation. In fact, I need to be careful with my words all of the time.  I was reminded of this admonition by an article in The New York Times on March 3, 2020 entitled, “How To Respond to Microaggressions “  by  Hahna Yoon. Linking to a paper written by Derald Wing Sue Ph. D. entitled” Microaggression: More than Just  Race “,  the author references the definition provided by Dr. Sue;

“ …microaggressions are the everyday slights, indignities, put-downs and insults that members of marginalized groups experience in their day-to-day interactions with individuals who are often unaware that they have engaged in an offensive or demeaning way.

Microaggressions are often discussed in a racial context, but anyone in a marginalized group — be it as a result of their gender, sexual orientation, disability or religion — can experience one.

Microaggressions can be as overt as watching a person of color in a store for possible theft and as subtle as discriminatory comments disguised as compliments.” (Yoon at 1; Sue at 1)

Microaggressions occur with respect to race and racism, LGBTQ, religion, those with disabilities, gender, social class and in fact, any marginalized group of individuals in our society. For example, with respect to gender, Dr. Sue notes that such microaggressions can take the form of:

  • “An assertive female manager is labeled as a “bitch,” while her male counterpart is described as “a forceful leader.” (Hidden message: Women should be passive and allow men to be the decision makers.)
  • A female physician wearing a stethoscope is mistaken as a nurse. (Hidden message: Women should occupy nurturing and not decision-making roles. Women are less capable than men).
  • Whistles or catcalls are heard from men as a woman walks down the street. (Hidden message: Your body/appearance is for the enjoyment of men. You are a sex object.)”  (Sue at 1).

Other examples include a comment about one’s appearance looking trashy or raising one’s voice so that a blind person can hear you; in reality, these can be microaggressions. (Sue at 2.)

Dr. Sue concludes his paper with some interesting statistics that show that microaggressions do impact our everyday lives:

“Let me use an example to illustrate how microaggressions can influence the standard of living and quality of life for women and persons of color. Statistics support the fact that White American males constitute only 33% of the population. Yet, they occupy approximately

    • 80% of tenured positions in higher education
    • 80% of the House of Representatives
    • 80-85% of the U. S. Senate
    • 92% of Forbes 400 executive CEO-level positions
    • 90% of public school superintendents
    • 99.9% of athletic team owners
    • 97.7% of U. S. presidents “(Sue at 2.)

So, what should we do about microaggressions?  The first step is to recognize them and to “… dissect what message it may be sending.” (Yoon at 2.) The second step is to decide if you want to address it or let it slide. If you address it, what are the consequences, if any, to your physical safety?  Will the person become defensive and argumentative? Will it affect your relationship? If you keep quiet, will you regret it later? And, if you let it go, what message are you sending and are you happy with that message? (Yoon at 2.)

If you do decide to respond, Ms. Yoon suggests ways to respond. First, ask for clarification such as asking that the person tells you more about what she means by that statement. Second, separate the intent from the impact by pointing out to the person that you realize that the person did not intentionally intent to be offensive but that is the way it sounded. Perhaps different phrasing could have been used. Third, share your own process by commenting that you, too, used to say such things but then realized how harmful it was and so I changed by ways. (Yoon at 3.).

So, the morale of this blog: think about what you say before you speak; it may be a microaggression that you never intended.

… Just something to think about.



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