Microaggressions are everyday acts of violence and oppression that people encounter. They are specific encounters between people of different identities (race, class, gender, sex, orientation, culture, ability) and are non-physical, typically involving demeaning implications or subtle insults against a minority identity.
Frequently non-verbal, microaggressions are simply the small ways that folks with power intentionally or unintentionally make it clear that opposed identities are unwelcome, not on par or even not respected. Commonly this is “colourblindness” (“I don’t see you as black, you’re just a person”) or denial of bias (“I’m not homophobic, I have a lot of gay friends”).
The term originally came from American psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce who noted them as a common experience of people of colour. According to his work, people of colour often face put-downs and gestures from white folks that reinforce stereotypes and institutionalized racism.
Though considered minor incidents violence, these aggressions are still just that. However hurtful, this kind of violence is an opportunity for activists to start a discussion about what just took place and the underlying issue of racism, classism, heterosexism etc. The Microaggressions Project offers a place where folks can post their microaggressions and how they handled them. Activists can challenge microaggressions by calling out the offenders.