The notion of microaggressions is closely related to that of implicit bias to the extent that it refers to behaviours that apparently stem from our biases. Microaggressions have variously been described in a number of ways but generally refer to behaviours that many of us have experienced at one time or another (even positive behaviour that can actually be well-intentioned), but that can be taken as insults by (only) those from minority groups.
Indeed, examples of microaggressions include behaviours that can have any number of explanations for them. Despite this, we have psychologists (who are trained to know better than to equate correlation with causation) trying to claim that the behaviours signal discrimination or bias towards certain groups.
To illustrate, the following are considered to be some examples of microaggressions:
- Saying “Where are you from?”
- Saying “There is only one race, the human race”
- Waiting for the next elevator if a person of colour is in it
- Saying “I believe the most qualified person should get the job”
- A college or university with buildings that are all named after white heterosexual upper class males
- An overabundance of liquor stores in communities of colour
- Saying “We’re gong to raise enough money tonight to get Johnny that new wheelchair’
- Men not asking women to pick up heavy items
- The notion that women do not get paid the same as men for the same type of work
Can you think of reasons other than discrimination to explain them?
For a comprehensive list, see here.
As is clear, these behaviours can be explained in any number of ways, and to define them as microaggressions depends on taking the very worst interpretation of any situation – constantly assuming slight and insult – something that can cause significant damage to our mental health. Thinking the worst of the world (and others) is also a symptom of psychological illness – and is one that is actively being exacerbated by the psychologists and academics that promote the notion of microaggressions. It is noteworthy that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is our current ‘gold standard‘ of therapy, dedicates significant effort to helping clients to overcome such damaging thinking by attributing the most charitable interpretation to others’ behaviour.
Despite the fact that microaggression ideology depends on very dubious concepts, definitions and evidence, it has still been widely adopted by many institutions. This is especially so within academia and by those that want to signal that they have adopted fashionable ideology (despite it having no scientific support).
For other relevant articles, see:
- An excellent piece by Jonathan Haidt
- How microaggression training can harm minority students
- Another summary of Lilienfeld’s paper
- The pseudo-science of microaggressions
- Microaggressions are in the eye of the beholder
- Microaggression is the new racism on campus
- Concept creep: Psychology’s expanding concepts of harm and pathology
- Another article by Lilienfeld
- Microaggressions: desperately seeking discrimination
- On the sociological roots of microaggressions
- The impact of microaggressions on mental health
- A balanced discussion of the notion of microaggressions
- Another academic critique
- A news report highlighting one of the consequences of attributing behaviour that could be explained in a number of ways to microaggressions