Microaggressions in school

“Where there is discomfort, there is an opportunity for growth.”
Content adapted from D.W. Sue’s Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life.

Microinvalidations are comments and behaviors that deny the experiences of marginalized group members. In simpler terms, Microinvalidations are when someone tells or implies to someone that their experiences of discrimination aren’t real. Microinvalidations is the most subtle type of microaggression of them all as it often doesn’t even mention the identity they are targeting. It’s so hidden that the perpetrator almost never realizes they’re doing something harmful. Microinvalidations can be split into Four different forms:
Themes Microaggression Messages
Being an Alien in your own Land (Very Common) Belief that visible racial/ethnic minority citizens are foreigners. – “Where are you from?” – “How do you speak English so well?” -“Can you teach me a few words in your native tongue?” Implies that someone’s racial identity negates (does not validate) their citizenship.It’s offensive because a stereotype is created in which a non-white person will always be considered a foreigner,even if they’ve lived in the country for their entire lives.
Colour Blindness Denial or pretense that a white person does not see color or race. – “ I don’t can’t see color” – “There is only one race, the human race” – “America is a melting pot” A belief that POCs aren’t justified to experience racism because we supposedly live in a race free world. This suggests that the person’s history and experiences based upon their race are unimportant and irrelevant.
Denial of Individual Racism Denial of personal racism or one’s role in its perpetuation. – “I can’t be racist! My best friend is black” – “As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.” People employ logic that suggests they are allowed to be racist just because they have friends who struggled, and thus understand the struggle by association.
Myth of Meritocracy (Most prevalent in school) – “Men and women are paid the same, they just choose the one is the most qualified” – “You can succeed as long as you work hard” This bluntly assumes that the only thing holding back marginalized groups is their capability, dismissing recognition that they do not have the same privilege as certain groups.
Dr. Sue has pointed out that microinvalidation is one of the most harmful forms of microaggressions because victims are shamed and made to think that they are being paranoid or oversensitive. Microinvalidation aims to make people feel invisible. Increasing awareness begins with standing up to casual racism or sexism by being willing to acknowledge the problem, and educate others when they make such comments. More Examples of Microinvalidation ● When you tell a friend about a microaggression you just experienced, and they tell you that you’re imagining things, or just reading into it too much. ● When someone tells you that you’re being oversensitive. ● When someone tells you that if you were nicer, more respectable, or more polite, then people wouldn’t discriminate against you.
Microinsults are more subtle than microassaults, but nevertheless have harmful effects on marginalized group members. They are subtle, spur-of-the-moment, back-handed statements that can be hard to tell.Most of the time, the perpetrator is not even aware that they’re insulting. Microinsults can be incredibly frustrating, they resemble paper cuts.You feel bad about something, but sometimes can’t even place your finger on why.Though it may look really minor, it can so often continue to wear one down, to the point where it can impact one’s mental and physical health. Microinsults can be split into Four different forms:
Themes Microaggression Messages
Ascription of Intelligence Assigning a degree of intelligence to a Person of color based on their race. – “You are a credit to your race” – “You are so articulate” – Asking an Asian person to help with a math or science problem. Assuming that people of colour are generally not as intelligent as Whites and that all Asians are intelligent and good in math/sciences.
Second Class Citizen Treated as a lesser person or group. – Person of color mistaken for a service worker – Being ignored at a store counter as attention is given to the White customer behind you – “You people…” The continued slavery mindset where people of color are servants. That they don’t belong and couldn’t possibly occupy high-status positions. That POC are likely to cause trouble and/ or travel to a dangerous neighborhood.
Pathologizing Cultural values/ Communication Styles Notions that the values and communication styles of people of color are abnormal. – “Why do you have to be so loud/animated? Just calm down.” – Dismissing an individual who brings up race/culture in work/school setting Influences or pressures POC to assimilate to dominant culture and leave their “cultural baggage” outside.
Assumption of Criminal Status Presumed to be a criminal, dangerous, or deviant based on race. – A person clutching their purse or checking their wallet as a Black approaches or passes by – A store owner following a customer of color around the store – A person waits to ride the next elevator when a person of color is on it This bluntly assumes that a black person is dangerous or a criminal. That they steal, are poor and does not belong.
More Examples of Microinsults ● When a straight person calls something “gay” to mean stupid. ● When a man calls a woman “sweetie” or “baby” in a professional context. ● A white person following a black person around a store

Microassaults are the most overt type of microaggressions. With microassaults, the person committing the microaggression acted intentionally and knew their behavior might be hurtful.They usually happen when the perpetrator is anonymous, they are being supported by peers around them, and/or they know they can get away with it.

Environmental Microaggressions (Macro-Level)
Racial Assaults, insults and invalidations which are manifested on systemic and environmental levels.
– A college or university with buildings that are all named after straight White upper class males.
– Television shows & movies that feature predominantly White people, without representation of people of colour
– Overcrowding of public schools in communities of colour
– Overabundance of liquor stores in communities of colour
This instills a certain type of mentally towards POC such as:
– You don’t belong
– You won’t succeed here
– There is only so far you can go.
– You are an outsider/You don’t exist.
– People of colour don’t/shouldn’t value education.
– People of colour are deviant.

More Examples of Microassaults
● When a white person in a car shouts a slur at a person of color who is walking down the street, then the white person quickly speeds away.
● When an able-bodied person takes or knocks a cane out of the hands of a person who walks with a cane.
● When a neurotypical person intentionally does things to trigger someone’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in order to bother them and find entertainment in watching them fix the issue over and over.

Examples of Microaggressions in School

Teacher to student

  • Failing to learn to pronounce or continuing to mispronounce the names of students after they have corrected you.
  • Setting low expectations for students of a certain race
  • Calling on, engaging and validating a race of students while ignoring other students during class. Singling students out in class because of their race.
  • Using inappropriate humor in class that degrades students from different groups.
  • Expressing racially charged political opinions in class assuming that the targets of those opinions do not exist in class.
  • Hosting debates in class that place students from groups who may represent a minority opinion in class in a difficult position or expecting students to ‘represent’ the perspectives of others of their race in class discussions or debates.
  • Denying the experiences of students by questioning the credibility and validity of their stories.
  • Assigning class projects or creating classroom or school procedures that are racist even inadvertently.
  • Complimenting non-white students on their use of “good English.”
  • Ignoring student‐to‐student microaggressions, even when the interaction is not course‐related.
  • Making assumptions about students and their backgrounds.
  • Discouraging students from working on projects that explore their own social identities.
  • Featuring pictures of students of only one ethnicity on the school website.
  • Having students engage in required reading where the protagonists are always white.
  • Getting defensive when corrected about any of the above.

Student to Student

  • Using inappropriate humour in class that degrades students from different groups.
  • Expressing racially charged political opinions in class assuming that the targets of those opinions do not exist in class.
  • Complimenting non-white students on their use of “good English.”
  • Making assumptions about students and their backgrounds.
  • Getting defensive when corrected about any of the above.

Preventing Microaggressions

Do not Assume, Ask and Learn: Do not expect students to be experts on any experiences beyond their own. Everybody has different experiences. Do not make them speak for their entire group (or others).

For example, just because a student is Latino does not mean that they have an academic background in the study of Latinos or automatically know Spanish. The same can be said about Black students.

Do not assume that the groups that you are talking about are not represented in the classroom. A professor who states “Illegal immigrants are criminals because they have broken the law coming into the country.” may be assuming that there are no undocumented students in the classroom. Moreover, they are not aware of how unsafe those students feel after hearing those comments.

Equality: Set high expectations for all students. For example: “You are all very bright and talented. I know that you will do well in my class. I have high expectations for every one of you.” In contrast, do not say: “Those of you from West High School will probably need a lot of help in my class.”

Safe Environment not Safe Space: Work to create a safe environment for all identities in the classroom by establishing ground rules and expectations regarding discussions about and presentations on issues of diversity.

When you are studying and discussing in class different group identities or issues related to specific groups (immigration, same sex marriage, affirmative action), do not lock eyes with a student whom you think represents one of those groups. Your action assumes the identities and opinions of the students, potentially “outs” that student, and puts the individual on the spot. In addition, all the other students in your class will also notice what you are doing.

“The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations — not run away from them,” Bloomberg told graduates. “One of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space, because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.”

Debates vs Dialogues: Debates are one technique that instructors often use in class to explore and get students engaged in issues. However, it is important to distinguish between debates and dialogues. Debates are about people discussing issues and competing to see who has the “best” response. They have the explicit assumption that someone will win and someone will lose. Dialogues, on the other hand, are about achieving greater levels of understanding by listening to each other as we delve deeper into issues. In the end, whichever technique you use, make sure that you establish ground rules and set the context for the activity.

Power: If you are going to express your political opinions in the classroom, understand that there is a risk of silencing students who do not agree with your views. As a faculty member, when you express your views to students you are doing so out of a position of power. That is, students may be afraid to express themselves given that they know your position on an issue and that their grade may be on the line. Similarly, be aware of how balanced you are in challenging a student’s opinion that may or may not agree with your own.

ACT: Be aware that microaggressions are also directed by students against other students. Be prepared to interrupt those incidents, too. Even if you are not sure how to address the climate issue in the moment, it is appropriate classroom management to stop problematic behavior immediately. You can follow up with individual students or the entire class later, after reflecting and/or consulting with colleagues on how best to do so.