We all understand and recognize that outright acts of racism or explicit insults can severely impact a Person of Color’s wellbeing. However, subtle and brief forms of racism, often called microaggressions, can also seriously damage an individual’s mental wellness. Unfortunately, it’s something that BIPOC individuals experience all the time.

What is Microaggression?

To begin understanding what microaggressions are, think of them as “mini insults.” They’re a form of mockery or invalidations that are so brief (and often very common) that they go entirely overlooked by both the perpetrator and the person on the receiving end of the negativity. 

Research has confirmed that offenders most often have no idea that they spoke or acted in a certain way because of race- the responses have simply become automatic. If anything, this makes these instances even more dangerous since it’s hard to know if they occurred or when to correct someone. 

Some examples of microaggressions include:

  • A Latina is mistaken for a service worker
  • Asking an Asian American, “where are you really from?”
  • Telling someone that they’re “well-spoken” for a Black woman
  • TV shows and movies with no diversity or representation

Despite how obvious or subtle the offense is, all behavior that falls into this category leaves the receiver feeling mistreated, excluded, and othered.

How Microaggression Effects Mental Wellness

On the surface, microaggressions might seem to have a minimal damaging effect on an individual. Like we said earlier, it’s not uncommon for them to go unnoticed in conversation. Nevertheless, if recognized as offensive or not, a lifetime of recurring instances can drastically impact someone’s self-esteem and mental health. When experienced, it’s hard for the victim to mention how it made them feel because they question themselves or fear a defensive outburst from the perpetrator. 

Although subtle, specific comments or acts undermine a Person of Color’s intelligence, they belittle and intensify ordinary daily stresses. The person then may feel angry, question their worth, or feel excluded and “less-than.” Hearing these comments time and time again can contribute to race-based traumatic stress (RBTS), anxiety, and depression. Constantly wondering if something occurred because of race is exhausting and can very quickly take the joy away from otherwise exciting situations.

A hostile environment that makes a person feel judged because of race or invalidates their thoughts, feelings, and experiences damages confidence levels and increases chances of depression. Further, the stress from dealing with these circumstances can lead to physical issues like headaches or trouble sleeping, which also influences one’s mental wellness.

Dealing with Microaggression

Learning how to cope with microaggressions can help offset the adverse effects. One way to manage these experiences is by sharing how you feel with someone you trust. Bottling up the emotions can only add to the stress and anxiety while accepting your feelings as valid gives you strength. 

Another necessary step to protect your wellbeing is to know when a situation isn’t going to get better. It’s hard to do, but removing yourself from a place that continually demeans you or ending a relationship that makes you feel uncomfortable can help a lot.

On the other hand, it’s essential for us to examine our own behaviors and how they might affect other people’s feelings. Because microaggressions are often unintentional or unseen manifestations of discrimination, it is vital to be conscious of our actions and understand someone’s feelings when they express them to us.

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