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What are microaggressions?

Microaggressions are small but powerful ways people can bully others by insulting them or invalidating them. Microaggressions can be verbal, physical, or environmental. A verbal microaggression is when someone says something that insults you but in a not so obvious way – like a back-handed compliment. A physical microaggression can be something like being ignored by a sales assistant. An environmental microaggression can be when an environment doesn’t allow you to speak up or have your say. A person might purposefully do this or they may do it without realising.

Microaggressions are negative behaviours that are slights, small digs, or insults towards an individual or group of people. Microaggressions often include negative stereotypes which can carry a very big weight and will hurt someone’s feelings a lot.

Why are microaggressions problematic?

Microaggressions may seem small but when they build up over a period of time it can negatively affect your mental health and wellbeing. For example, if you have a conversation with someone and most things they say are microaggressions, it can add up and make you feel bad and can create hostile environments. This behaviour can be a part of other types of abuse, for example, verbal abuse, bullying, coercive control or gaslighting.

Examples of microaggressions

Sometimes things can be said in a way that you did not mean. For example, if you have something to say in your head but it comes out wrong. This might come across as a microaggression. Some people say or perform microaggressions intentionally to make another person feel bad. Here are some examples of microaggressions:

In conversation

  • “I would never have guessed you were trans, you look so good!” This carries a negative stereotype that trans people are supposed to look a certain way.
  • “you are so smart for a woman”. This carries a negative stereotype that women are not smart.
  • “you are so well-spoken for a Black person”. This carries a negative stereotype that Black people are not well-spoken.
  • “yeah I suppose that is sad when you’ve not experienced any problems like I have”. This is invalidating someone feeling sad by comparing two different people’s reasons for being sad.

In behaviour

  • Misgendering someone by using the wrong pronouns that they have said they use. This is invalidating someone’s identity.
  • Assuming someone who works at a hospital is a nurse because they are a woman. This carries a negative stereotype that women tend to be nurses and men tend to be doctors.
  • Describing a poorer neighbourhood as unsafe. This carries a stereotype that people with less money are bad which makes where they live is unsafe.

In environments

  • Lack of representation. That can invalidate someone’s experience of a certain environment.
  • Consistently having a conversation that excludes a certain group of people. This can leave people feeling invalidated and unable to join the conversation.
  • Consistently talking over someone. This does not give them a chance to speak and may make them feel uncomfortable.

What does the law say?

Microaggressions can be classed as harassment and if they continue as repeated behaviour it can be classed as bullying. Under the Equality (Scotland) Act 2010, it is an offence to harass anyone because of their

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity.

Where can you get help and support?

Find out where to get support.

Leave this site quickly and head to BBC News

Visit the That’s Not OK campaign page for more information.

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