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Microaggressions: Things that need to stop being said 

“What are microaggressions? They’re not real racism, right?”

Microaggressions are brief daily verbal exchanges or actions that intentionally or unintentionally transmit hostile, derogatory, or negative messages geared explicitly toward a target person. It leads to a lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, and health stress. Many people are unaware that they use microaggressions.

  • According to this study, more than a quarter of Americans (26%) have definitely experienced a microaggression at work, and another 22% are unsure. Thirty-six percent have witnessed one (with another 24% unsure).   

  •  The Harvard Gazette states, “Microaggressions contribute to an onslaught of injuries to the psyche that may seem unrelenting and can result in everything from depression, fatigue, and anger to physical ailments such as chronic infections, thyroid problems, and high blood pressure.”


According to professor Derald Wing Sue,“Microaggressions have the lifelong insidious effect of silencing, invalidating and humiliating the identity and/or voices of those who are oppressed. “Although their lethality is less obvious, they nevertheless grind down and wear out the victims.”


There are many themes to microaggressions, such as Pathologizing Cultural Values/Communication Styles, Assumption of Criminality, and Ascription of Intelligence.  Click here for a full list of themes, with examples and implied messages.


Examples of microaggressions: 


  1. You are pretty for a Black person.

    1. This is probably one of the most common derogatory phrases a person of color receives. When saying this, you are demeaning them as an individual and a whole race. This phrase insinuates that a person of color has managed to be “pretty” despite the color of their skin. This phrase holds exclusive beauty standards that have historically shunned away people of color. This also implies that race, to you, is a defining factor in a person's life, but only when they aren’t White. 


  1. Can you Twerk? 

    1. Women of color are overly sexualized; this phrase diminishes stereotypes Black women as sexual beings by associating only them to this style of dance. 


  1. You don’t even sound Black?

    1. How does one sound like a race? Would you say, “you don’t sound White,” to a person from Australia, because they have a different accent? This phrase classifies all Black people as those who use broken language and slang in communication. In reality, Black people learn to read and write just like everyone else, and learn dialects in the same way that White people do. Don't classify someone's speech and try to justify their socioeconomic status. 


  1. Can I touch your hair? 

    1. No. 


  1. Is that your real hair? 

    1. It’s simply none of your business what Black people decided to do with their hair. This is particularly derogatory towards Black people because it is rooted in the implication that certain hairstyles are only able to be done with straighter and less coiled hair.


  1. You’re so pretty/handsome, are you mixed? 

    1. If a person of color is posed with this question, they can get offended because when they respond “Black,” it is looked down upon. Colorism persists in society- lighter skin and eurocentric features are the beauty standard.




  1. Wow, I didn’t expect you to be so articulate/you are well-spoken. 

    1. This phrase is used too often. This is something that someone learns from only seeing “ghetto” depictions of Black people and assuming that all Black people are the same. This also tries to belittle the Black community by assuming they’re all ignorant or uneducated. 


  1. Speak English. You are in America! 

    1. Sorry, you’re mad because you don’t understand what I’m saying? Try minding your business. Remember, America was built by immigrants. 



Angel Polkey



Brief Explanation of Graphic from the Artist, Catherine Liao (Cup of Creative, Instagram and Website):

The above character is drawing out their own conclusions about someone and literally drawing what they believe about them. As a result it paints a sad portrait of someone who is misrepresented due to the above person’s ignorance, which is why that person appears to be smiling. The line coming from their finger represents microaggressions, as they seem unharmful on the surface but lead to a bigger picture of violence and negative emotions for the person it is directed towards. 

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