Teachers, consider the possibility that you may unconsciously commit racial microaggressions in the classroom? Watch this short video, titled ‘The Invisible Discriminator’ – Stop. Think. Respect. This Public Service Announcement provides clear examples of microaggressions in everyday life. Racial microaggressions such as these may occur across all types of interracial communications; however, those that have the potential for the greatest harm are those perpetrated by majority culture individuals toward persons in disempowered racial groups.
According to Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Psychology and Education in TC’s Counseling Psychology program in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, racial microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults that potentially have harmful psychological impact on the target person or group”
Let’s switch the scene to your classroom. Now, reflect on your physical, verbal and non-verbal behaviors towards students of color.
Ask yourself three tough questions.
1. How do I behave and act around students of color?
2. How do students of color perceive my behaviors and actions toward them?
3. Do I commit racial microaggressions toward students of color?
Consider the possibility that you may commit racial microaggressions. Stop and think about how those comments or actions may cause real distress and harm to them.
Four strategies that may reduce racial microaggressions
1. Acknowledge – acknowledge you may unconsciously commit racial microaggressions. Only then can then change your subconscious attitudes and ultimately your behavior towards students of color. We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.
2. Counter – counter your hidden bias with positive images of people of color. Distribute stories and pictures that portray stereotype-busting images – posters, newsletters, annual reports, speaker series, and podcasts throughout your classroom.
3. Engage – engage with students of color by focusing on your similarities, yet appreciating your differences. You can achieve this by engaging with students of color in situations that involve meaningful activity.
4. Accept – accept their racial reality by looking at situations or experiences from their vantage. Do not minimize their racial identity, or avoid the discomfort of discussing racial issues with them.
All of these strategies require work and I encourage you to keep doing them. As long as racial microaggressions remain hidden, invisible, unspoken and excused as innocent slights with minimal harm, individuals will continue to insult, demean, alienate, and oppress marginalized groups. It is incumbent upon educators to make every effort to recognize and address racial microaggressions in our schools.