Microagressions: “Don’t be an ignorant Jerk.”

road-sign-464659_1280Do you ever have those moments when someone says an off handed comment that just doesn’t sit right?  Your first response may be to laugh along with the joke or  smile, nod, and move on, but the comment sticks with you and makes you uncomfortable.  These moments are also examples of microagressions, everyday comments and actions that likely are not intended to harm but still have the effect of demeaning or marginalizing a person or group. These comments create victims whose wounds often go unnoticed and ignored.  These wounds that add up into long-standing inequalities and continued marginalization, all of which may be entirely invisible to those with more privilege.

It’s likely that we all see and experience these multiple times a day, even in well-meaning circles of friends and colleagues.  What, then, are we supposed to do?  As members of or allies for marginalized groups, speaking up matters, but how do we stop the microagression in ways that help?

I was happy to read this thoughtful post from Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) in Bloomberg View today and wanted to pass it along.  The full article is definitely worth a read and can be found HERE. My favorite line follows. 

“… a lot of it simply boils down to saying “Don’t be an ignorant jerk.” This is a laudable injunction. It’s a remark that has always been best delivered in private, without a gun in your hand. And if at all possible, with a friendly smile.”

What seems like a simple (albeit assertive) interjection, may in fact open the door for dialogue and learning.  While I might choose my words a little more carefully, the intent of calling someone out on ignorant and inappropriate behavior stands.  Further, the attention to delivering the message in private, peacefully, and with a friendly smile reminds us of ways we can call someone “in” even as we call them out for inappropriate remarks.  In calling someone in, we reaffirm their importance to and role in our communities at the same time as we reinforce positive and inclusive norms for ALL our diverse community members.

All too often, I feel paralyzed with indecision and not knowing how to best respond to these situations. The accomodator and mediator in me wants to smooth things over while the activist wants justice in the face of ongoing inequality.  The private and friendly call to not be an ignorant jerk might give me just the right mantra to at least spark action that balances calling people in with calling people out.

How do you respond to microagressions at home and at work?  How might you call someone out AND in the next time you see one?

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