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Microaggressions — subtle but offensive comments or actions directed at a minority group that unconsciously reinforce stereotypes or bias — can be hard to quantify because they’re often delivered casually and without the intention to offend. Their effect is cumulative. For that reason, they’re often described as “death by a thousand cuts.”

“All these seemingly small events accumulate over time and can leave you just as bloody as if someone had stabbed you,” NiCole Buchanan, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology who leads workshops on microaggressions at Michigan State University and beyond, told the APA in 2017

Studies have shown that most people carry some degree of unconscious bias. The key to creating diverse spaces is to acknowledge those biases, reflect upon them, and move past them.

VIDEO: What is a microaggression?

Examples of microaggressions

Microaggressions can target any minority group. Here are a few examples.


  • Where are you really from? (1)
  • You act so white. (1)
  • Can I touch your hair? (2)
  • Your name is hard to pronounce. Can I just give you a nickname? (3)


  • You’d be prettier if you smiled. (4)
  • Mansplaining. (4)
  • Wow! You don’t see many male (nurses, nannies, etc.) (5)
  • When are you planning on having children? (6)

Sexuality/sexual orientation

  • A refusal to acknowledge chosen pronouns. (6)
  • To a same-sex couple on a date: “Stop flaunting.”
  • Describing something negative as”gay.” (1)

Mental illness

  • Pull yourself together. (7)
  • I wish I could take time off for being in a bad mood. (8)
  • Mental illness isn’t a real disease. (8)
  • Stop being so dramatic. (8)

Sources: (1) | (2) | (3) |(4) |(5) |(6) | (7) | (8)

Confronting microaggressions

As a recipient

  • Try to communicate how the microaggression made you feel. Experts recommend criticizing the aggression and not the aggressor.
  • If you choose to confront and are afraid of repercussions, have a witness present.
  • Seek support and talk it out with someone you trust.

As a witness

  • Be an ally for victims of microaggressions by offering support and condemning the behaviour.
  • Communicate why you find the microaggression offensive from your point of view. Don’t speak for the victim.

As a microaggressor

  • Try not to act defensive. If you’ve unintentionally offended someone, take it as an opportunity to assess and reflect.
  • Acknowledge the person’s feelings, apologize for the offensive remark, and be aware of your unconscious biases.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and work to prevent future mistakes.

Source: APA

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