This week's BYP Blog is a guest article from Lildonia Lawrence, a life coach, educator and yoga instructor. Lildonia produces monthly content for the BYP Network centred on wellbeing, wellness and healthy living.
Microaggression. A word we hear often these days but what exactly does it mean?
Microaggressions are everyday comments which communicate hostile, derogatory or offensive messages. They can be verbal or non-verbal and target individuals who are members of a marginalised or minority group including people of colour, women, those within the LGBT community, those with disabilities and religious minorities. Microaggressions are death by a thousand cuts meaning they occur repeatedly making their impact wide-reaching and long-lasting.
The subtext behind microaggressions is that the recipient is lesser than. Unfortunately, they can often be covert making them difficult to name, recognise and recover from.
Examples of microaggressions could include:
A person of colour being asked “what are you?” as an attempt to find out their racial or ethnic background
A person of colour being told they don’t seem/speak/act like their race or ethnicity
A female doctor being presumed to be a nurse because of her gender
Microaggressions are insidious and many members of marginalized groups experience them on a regular basis. Being on the receiving ends of comments like these are extremely damaging and can leave people feeling downtrodden at best and traumatised at worst.
Here are my top tips for dealing with microaggressions in the workplace.
Challenge the Issue
Challenge doesn’t always mean a confrontation. Depending on the situation there can be ways to illicit behaviour change with a factual and carefully worded response. Often when I deliver LGBTQ+ awareness training, people will comment on clothing, mannerism or gender presentation in relation to sexual orientation. I always take these opportunities to gently but firmly make participants aware that these factors have nothing to do with one another and highlight the dangers of such stereotyping. We can’t always be teachers but sometimes suggesting further reading on topic area can be useful e.g. “I felt that comment was inappropriate, perhaps it would be useful to read xyz book on the topic”.
I remember a colleague ‘complimenting’ me on my ‘lovely black girls butt’. I was mortified that my body was commented on in such a way and luckily, I had a good relationship with my line manager at the time meaning I could bring it to my 1-1. However, this may not always be the case and if microaggressions at work are affecting your wellbeing you have the right to speak to a HR partner in your establishment. Knowing your rights is an important part of the process and being able to quote company policy may disarm those who feel they can get away with such microaggressions. Being on the receiving ends of these slights can
impact on self-confidence so confiding in a friend or family member you trust can provide some breathing space outside of work.
Talk About It
Harpreet Nandha, Communication Manager at Sky TV runs ‘let’s talk about race’ sessions throughout the company to encourage a change in culture. She says “It’s important as a facilitator to help create a safe space where honest discussions can take place. I’ve had people disagree with me… It’s made for brilliant debate and we’ve both learnt something new”. Discussing equality and diversity issues openly across organisations allow for positive change to be fostered and genuine progressive action to take place.
Lildonia Lawrence is a life coach, yoga instructor and sex educator working in London. She has a background in psychology and mental health and has spent many years working in the health and wellbeing industries. Her week is spent with a mixture of delivering health workshops, teaching group classes and leading coaching sessions. Alongside this, she works as a wellbeing writer for several publications. You can find out more about her work at @lildonia.lawrence