What is a Microaggression?

Most microaggressions are subtle and indirect, but they occur frequently in the daily interactions that members of underrepresented communities have with other people. Most of the time, people who commit microaggressions think of themselves as well-intentioned and do not realize that the underlying messages communicated by their actions or comments are hurtful to other people.

Types of Microaggressions


  • A microassault is most similar to what we traditionally think of as “overt discrimination.”
  • It can be verbal, nonverbal, or environmental
  • Microassaults are conscious and intentional acts by an aggressor
  • Microassaults most often occur when
    • It is possible to remain anonymous
    • A person feels like they are with other like-minded individuals
    • An individual becomes emotional and loses control


  • A microinsult is a comment or action that communicates insensitivity or disregard for a person’s identity or heritage
  • Microinsults often occur as subtle snubs that convey a hidden, insulting message to the recipient
  • Perpetrators of microinsults are not usually aware of the harmful nature of their behavior


  • A microinvalidation is a comment or action that ignores or dismisses the thoughts, feelings, or experiences of a member of an underrepresented community

Think about a time when someone said something about some aspect of your identity that was intentionally or unintentionally dismissive, insulting, or demeaning. How did it make you feel? How did you respond to what was being said? How did you feel afterwards?

Strategies for Acknowledging Our Own Microaggressions

Invite dialogue when there are signs that it is necessary

Respect the emotional risk and vulnerability it takes for someone to share the impact your action had

Express appreciation and willingness to engage

We all commit microaggressions; take ownership of yours and express a commitment to growth

Strategies for Responding to Microaggressions

Try to understand the feelings behind their statement

Paraphrase and ask for clarity

Share your own process and challenge the underlying stereotype

  • I overheard you make the comment that ____________. I used to think that too, but then I learned ___________.

Separate intent from impact and express your feelings

  • I know you didn’t intend this, but when you said ____________, I felt _____________, because _______________.

Express and promote empathy

Closing Thoughts

Students and teachers are made of powerful feelings, but these feelings are not fixed and set in stone. Emotions can be identified, excavated, understood, and managed. And when we work through that process together, implicit bias can be unlearned. Adapted from Dr. Yolanda Flores Niemann

Interested in looking at your own biases? With input from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, MTV’s Look Different has created a seven day bias cleanse on race, gender, and anti-LGBTQ bias that provides you with daily tasks that will begin to help you change your associations right in your inbox.

Learn more at http://www.lookdifferent.org/what-can-i-do/bias-cleanse