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Taking Action -- Responding to Microaggressions Summary


There is much to consider when deciding whether/ how to respond… and quickly!

What is your role? Are you the target or a bystander?

What is your goal in responding? To be heard, to educate/ change behavior, other?

What are the possible consequences?:

•If I respond, could my physical safety be in danger?

•If I respond, will the person become defensive and will this lead to an argument?

•If I respond, how will this affect my relationship with this person (e.g., co-worker, family member, etc.)

•If I don’t respond, will I regret not saying something?

•If I don’t respond, does that convey that I accept the behavior or statement?

Response Options

-Let It Go

-Respond in the Moment

-Have a Later Conversation

If you are the object of a microaggression

Also consider:

•The importance of the issue and the relationship.

If either is important, letting it go is probably not the answer. Express yourself in a way that honors your care for the other party, and assert yourself in a way that acknowledges your concern about the issue.

•Your feelings.

Microaggressions can make you doubt the legitimacy of your reactions. Any emotion is legitimate and should factor into your decision about whether, how, and when to respond.

•How you want to be perceived now and in the future.

There are consequences to speaking up and to remaining silent. Only you can determine which holds more weight for you in any specific situation.

If you are a Bystander

- Pause to allow space for the targeted individual to react first.

- Be an ally. Sometimes your voice can be powerful than the target of the microaggression. 

- When you speak, speak for yourself. Explain why you are offended or upset at the aggressor’s words or actions, rather than speaking on behalf of the targeted individual.

Tactics for responding to microaggressions

While your response will vary by situation, context and relationship, here are some tactics to memorize:

Ask for more clarification: “Could you say more about what you mean by that?” “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____________.”

- Counteract an interruption: “Hold that thought just a second, I’d like to hear the rest of what _______________(individual) was saying.”

Counteract restating their question: “Actually I appreciated _________________(individual)’s question as she said it. I’d like to make sure we discuss that.”

Deciding how to respond

- One principle underlying these statements is helping the aggressor understand she or he is not under attack for their comment. We don’t want to make them defensive such that they shut down.

- Explain that "the conversation might get uncomfortable for them but that what they just said or did was uncomfortable for you."

- If they continue to say they “didn’t mean it like that” or deflect -- remind them that you appreciate their willingness to clarify their intent and hope they appreciate your willingness to clarify their impact.


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