Handling racial micro-aggressions


jegna_brandon_jonesThe topics of race and racism have dominated the media headlines like nothing else in 2015. Many timelines, newspapers, and news programs are featuring hashtags and slogans with the central element of racism.

Some may argue that these issues of racism are nothing new. However, there has been an uptick in the awareness of such issues. Locally, we have had our share of incidents as well.

One thing that I have had several conversations about with colleagues has been how all this coverage of horrid things happening to Black people affects our emotional and social health. This is something that definitely needs to be taken under consideration.

How does the average African American child perceive another Black child being murdered or aggressively handled? How does the average African American person come to work and answer obvious racially insensitive questions from a coworker?

As African Americans, we have to keep in mind how these tragic incidents are affecting our daily lives. We often face insults and slights that can build up and cause us significant distress. These incidences are what we call “micro-aggressions.”

Micro-aggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. I believe there is a two-step process for handling racial micro-aggressions.

The first step in handling micro-aggressions is to recognize that it has happened. Often we can battle with ourselves to understand what is happening to us. Instead of having a back-and-forth with oneself on whether a micro-aggression has taken place or not, I recommend the following:

If you feel like something happened, then there is a good chance something did take place. Now, this does not mean retaliating in a negative manner. However, one should definitely assess the situation at hand.

Secondly, pay attention to the situation and assess the context of the situation. The context will allow you to make a clear and logical decision on what to do next. This is not the easiest thing to do when you have been hurt. However, it’s important because it may help determine what happens next in your situation.

In short, there are going to be situations in life where others may mistreat you. Whether this mistreatment is intentional or indirect, it happens. This is not just and should not happen.

However, we must be prepared to deal with these situations regardless. We live in a world that has proven itself to be abusive to Black people on many levels. This abuse has been so effective that it can be internalized as well.

We have a lot of work to do individually and communally. In order to improve our situation, we must maintain an awareness of how we are affected. Micro-aggressions are just one of the traumatizing methods that we experience. The term “micro” should not negate the realities of the impact these experiences can have.

Don’t be a victim. Be prepared now. Hopefully, you will not have to experience such treatment. However, we live in such a toxic society for Black people that chances are you will.


Brandon Jones M.A. is a mental health practitioner. He welcomes reader responses to Brandon@jegnainstitute.com or follow him on twitter @UniversalJones.