Comprehensive list / collection of microaggressions?
January 4, 2021 11:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on a project to help identify microaggressions in my workplace, in the hopes that at least some of them are due to ignorance rather than malice, and that awareness of them might help well-meaning people avoid them. But to do that, we need a categorized list of many examples of microaggressions, so that people can recognize their behaviors and correct them. Does such a list already exist somewhere? The closest thing I've been able to find was this, which breaks them down into categories and shows a few examples. But it's far from comprehensive.

If there's not a compendium somewhere already, I was thinking of making a resource for people to add their own, but I'm not sure of the best way to allow people to add examples while still keeping it anonymous. Is there a good (free) resource for creating a spreadsheet that people can contribute to anonymously?

posted by crookedgrin to Human Relations (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not a list, but here is the classic How microaggressions are like mosquito bites (2 min YouTube video).

I have used an editable Google Doc to collect anonymous input. In order to ensure anonymity, contributors need to not be logged in to a Google account while editing. This can be done conveniently by opening the Google Doc on a secondary browser.
posted by heatherlogan at 1:10 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I don't know your organization, or your goals beyond what you stated here... but I'd think cautiously about creating a collection of racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, etc. language and experiences beyond the great DWS list you shared. For the folks who have been exposed to this language even once, knowing there's a storehouse of aggression categorized and available a second (third, twentieth) time, under your organization's well-intentioned imprimatur might feel a little traumatizing.

Also, depending on the size of your organization, and the makeup or ratio of marginalized populations to more culturally dominant folks, it might feel VERY risky for folks to share openly/honestly about experiences that could even POSSIBLY identify them or 'out' coworkers.
posted by mr. remy at 1:14 PM on January 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Replying to mr. remy - I agree about the potential hazard of people being outed by posting something that could identify them; not sure how to deal with that other than to make sure that they are aware of that risk when they post anything. Also, this is specifically for microaggressions, not major infractions, which should still be reported to HR and dealt with in the ways that already exist to deal with them. We will have to make that very clear as well.

For more context: the point of this specific project is to hope / expect that people in the position to improve their behavior will -- at least some of the time -- seek to do so if they have the tools at their disposal. Corporate training about "microaggressions" tends to include only really obvious, non-micro things, like telling someone they speak English well when English is their first language. That could be considered "micro", I guess, but it seems pretty out-and-out racist. There are much less obvious actions that still cause harm -- for example, people tend to sit just a little bit further away from minority candidates in interviews. That's not something most people would even notice unless it's explicitly brought to their attention. But once they know about it, people who want to do better can seek to correct for it.

As for generally "thinking cautiously" about doing something like this (i.e., not doing it), I've heard that kind of warning repeatedly, and I'm a bit frustrated with it. In practice, it translates to "trying to do the right thing could backfire, so let's do nothing". In my view, it's putting what's good for the business ahead of what's good for the people who work there, and specifically for the people who are being harmed. That's "caution" is exactly the kind of attitude that allows institutional oppression to persist.
posted by crookedgrin at 3:09 PM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Found my own answer by digging around a bit more. Posting here in case anyone else comes looking.

A pretty large compendium pulled from direct quotes:
Facebook page of the same project:

Another, similar set of stories:

A PDF very similar to the one I originally linked:

And, just for grins, an article arguing that microaggressions aren't a scientifically rigorous concept and should be replaced:
posted by crookedgrin at 3:37 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm coming from a Psychology perspective, so I am fairly skeptical that a long context-free list of Microaggressions is useful. Is the goal to help people think about how their actions could hurt others, or is it to avoid liability by checking a bunch of things off a list? If you put up an intimidating list of things not to do or you'll get in trouble, that can make people nervous about their actions and cause MORE accidental microaggressions. You don't want to run into the "don't think about a white elephant" problem, where being told to not do or think something makes it more likely that someone will do or or think something. This is especially likely to happen for people like me with anxiety issues, or in high stress environments.

I've also seen detailed lists backfire where employees resent feeling like an employer has too much control over their actions, which leads to them actively undermining the effort. Also no one reads long lists anyway. If your goal is actually to decrease the amount of hurtful behavior and statements, you should focus on positive and active things people can do.

Personally I would try to boil it down to the simple principles: Does a statement or action implicitly support a negative stereotype about a group someone belongs to? Does a statement marginalize or uncomfortably focus on some work-irrelevant aspect of their identity? Lists can help people understand the concepts and identify categories that may not be obviously sensitive, but they are always going to be missing something. For instance, most of these lists don't have much about mental health disorders, but many common statements about them qualify as micro aggressions that do legitimate harm. The advantage of using principles is that the same rules work for all groups/identities and it encourages people to take ownership of their own statements and actions instead of feeling controlled by a list of rules.
posted by JZig at 5:30 PM on January 4, 2021 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: @JZig - Definitely not the goal to check off boxes. This is not even an officially-sanctioned effort; it's just something some of the employees are putting together organically. The main point it to raise awareness of things that are not obvious. Mental-health-related microaggressions is a great example of that -- people say lots of things that are hurtful without realizing it. Simple awareness is the goal here, that "oh, shit" moment when you see something from someone else's perspective. No one is going to be forced into doing any of this; it's all just a resource for people who *want* to do better.

I know everyone is hyper-sensitive and hyper-skeptical right now, but I choose to believe that most of my colleagues sincerely want to make our workplace more inclusive for everyone. It's my hope that expecting better of people will normalize *being* better.
posted by crookedgrin at 6:52 AM on January 5, 2021

Have you spoken with anyone (in your organization or outside) who deals with diversity and inclusion, HR, or employment practices liability issues? This is an issue that people have been studying and working on for some time, and if you wade into it equipped only with good intentions you will very likely wind up stumbling into painful areas you don't realize exist.
posted by Lexica at 1:00 PM on January 5, 2021

Response by poster: @Lexica - Yes, dug around with them quite a bit over the last year trying to get this data. They didn't have anything for it, though.
posted by crookedgrin at 3:36 PM on January 5, 2021

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