Microaggression and Bias in the HIV Community -- and What We Can Do About It
August 29, 2016
"Her 'ghetto' is showing."
Have you ever had that experience where someone says something that was meant to be neutral, or funny or even complimentary, but it felt like a dig at your (or someone else's) race, gender, HIV status, sexuality or some other part of who they are?
If so, then you have experienced a microaggression. Microaggressions, according to psychologist Kevin Nadal, Ph.D. and others, are
They're called "micro" because they often happen between people or in intimate groups. But there is nothing small about them. We have seen how LGBT bullying can drive young people to suicide; perceptions of black people being inherently dangerous can lead them to be murdered just for walking or driving down the street; and persistent stigma allows the HIV epidemic to flourish.
The term "microaggression" was originally coined in academia in the 1970s by trailblazing psychiatrist Chester Pierce, M.D., to specifically describe race-based insults and slights leveled at black people by non-black people. The idea has found its way into mainstream conversations in recent years. Recent work has shown how microaggressions are aimed at members of many other oppressed or targeted groups: LGBTQ folks, women, people with disabilities, immigrants and many more, including those whose identities are at the intersection of several forms of oppression. HIV status can also be a target of microaggressions. I asked several community members to share a few of their "favorites," sampled below.
Microaggressions generally fall into three categories.
Microassault: A conscious, intentional discriminatory action, such as calling someone a derogatory term or avoiding them because of some aspect of who they are.
A person who delivers a microassault may recognize they have a measure of bias against a group of people, but may feel justified in it and express it publicly.
Microinsult: A comment or nonverbal communication that conveys rudeness or insensitivity toward some aspect of a person's identity.
The sneaky thing about microinsults is that sometimes they're disguised as compliments. The person saying it may truly believe they are making the person on the receiving end feel good.
Microinvalidation: A communication that subtly excludes, ignores or dismisses the feelings, experiences or realities of members of oppressed communities.
Microaggressions are often unconscious, and people delivering them most likely have little idea of the impact they make. But research shows they can be even more harmful because of their invisibility.
Perhaps you've also had the experience where, just as quickly as a comment socked you in the gut, you explained away your reaction, telling yourself the person "didn't mean anything by it" and maybe you are just "being oversensitive." You may fear a defensive response if you approach the speaker, and if you don't approach them the episode may weigh on your mind, sapping an enormous amount of energy. You're damned if you do and if you don't.
Research also indicates that experiencing microaggressions can impact a person's work, education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and much more. And microaggressions impact those who express them, as well.
Microaggressions are often gateways to a teachable moment, but framing them as microaggressions acknowledges the harm done to the person on the receiving end. That is just as important to address as the microaggressors' learning processes.
This article was provided by TheBody.
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