What are Microaggressions?

While the term has been around since 1970, Merriam-Webster only recently added “microaggressions” to its dictionary. It’s defined as, “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”  Merriam-Webster uses racial minorities as one example; however any marginalized group is vulnerable to microaggressions.

This January, APA Books released the paperback edition of That’s So Gay! Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community. In this book, Dr. Kevin Nadal explains how microaggressions affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Nadal describes microaggressions as the “New Face of Discrimination.” It has become unacceptable in the present day and age to openly voice and act on discrimination. Because of this, it can be commonplace for Americans in the majority to determine that they are not prejudiced, because they associate prejudice with the more outright forms of discrimination, such as hate crimes. However, they may not realize the ways in which their seemingly innocuous statements and behaviors can subtly harass or insult minorities.

Unlike blatant acts of discrimination, the motivations behind microaggressions are often ambiguous. Nadal uses the example of a White woman alone on an elevator who moves to the side and grabs her bag when joined by an African-American man. Nadal notes that there are several possible explanations for the woman’s action, but regardless of her intention, the man may suffer psychological stress as a result.

What can we do about microaggressions? Nadal gives several recommendations.  One location where microaggressions occur most often is in the workplace. It may be more difficult to confront microaggressions in this environment because of power dynamics and concerns over one’s employment status. It also raises the concern that one won’t be able to prove a microaggression to human resources representatives—or to convince them that such subtle interactions are worth investigating. Therefore, Nadal recommends that workplaces remain open to discussing microaggressions, and incorporating education about them in training and hiring opportunities.

 

References

Nadal, K. L. (2013). That’s so gay! http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14093-000

This Land is Your Land

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by Katie ten Hagen

My friend DJ was in Washington, DC, on June 26, when the US Supreme Court finally legalized gay marriage nationwide. At midnight, he joined an elated crowd outside the White House, celebrating the victory and the powerful sight of the rainbow flag projected against the White House. That sight was soon surpassed by something even more powerful:  A man standing beside him spontaneously broke into song. He began singing “This Land Is Your Land” in a strong, unwavering voice that silenced the crowd. A minute later, a woman rode up on a bicycle and began to harmonize. Their impromptu duet riveted the crowd. And then it was over. The singers hugged and parted.

This land is your land. The marriage equality decision represents the culmination of a campaign for equality that has been remarkable and unprecedented in its speed and success. It means real change that affects countless lives for the better, and offers hope that the world is becoming a more equal and accepting place. Here at the APA offices just around the corner from Capitol Hill, we’ve been right in the thick of celebrations. This Day in June, published by our sister imprint Magination Press—a book that won the 2015 Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award for exceptional merit relating to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender experience—describes the vibrant and joyful celebration of a Pride Parade through a child’s eyes.

47365798At the same time, the world is not yet perfect. Legal does not necessarily mean accepted, and accepting those different from ourselves has been a hurdle for the human race for as long as we have existed. Just as the end of legalized racial discrimination did not eliminate racism, homophobia will remain long after gay marriage becomes the law of the land. In recognition of this, we recently published Happy Together: Thriving as a Same-Sex Couple in Your Family, Workplace, and Community, a book to help couples work together to identify, develop, and use their strengths and skills to successfully navigate relationship stress, while confronting external prejudice within families, in the workplace, and elsewhere.

Some prejudice is obvious, but sometimes it takes more subtle forms. Sometimes it is ingrained so deeply in our social interactions that it’s difficult to even notice—unless you are the one targeted. Seemingly inconsequential slights, as simple as a word, phrase, or tiny action, accumulate over time and weigh on members of targeted minority groups with feelings of victimization and exclusion. That’s So Gay! looks at the scholarly literature on microaggressions directed at LGBTQ people, and offers readers a blueprint for developing a culture of acceptance, instead of exclusion. An upcoming book from Magination Press, Ouch Moments: When Words Hurt, takes a stark and realistic look at microaggressions as they occur between children. Ouch Moments will be released in September 2015.

The world is not perfect, and it never will be. On June 26, we celebrated a momentous step forward. The work continues.