What is microaggression?
Consider the following: “Wow! You look very nice. Are you getting married today?!!” I was asked this question a few weeks ago as I was exiting the barbershop.
The reference that the couple was making was to my attire, a suit and tie, which is essentially my daily uniform for work.
I responded ” thank you but no, I’m not getting married. I’m heading back to my office.” They looked shocked by my response.
The couple’s intention was to give me a compliment. Instead, their unconscious bias led to a microaggression.
CAUTION: it’s not our intention that matters, it’s the impact of our actions.
Let’s process the concept of nibbles. I gave an example of a microaggression that I experienced, which sparked a very robust dialogue. In reading the various comments, I noticed that a few people were slightly confused as to how the comment was an issue.
I return to my point about intent vs impact. While we can have the best intentions, such as giving a compliment about nice attire, the hidden message has to be considered. If the comment stopped with “you look nice”, there would not be an issue at all.
However, the commentary that followed highlighted unconscious bias, which resulted in the intention becoming a microaggression.
CAUTION: historically marginalized individuals experience such commentary on a consistent basis; thus, it is very easy to recognize when someone has a limited scope and/or exposure to the situation in question.
Said individuals constantly experience being asked certain questions and it may appear that they are immune based on how they respond. While it may appear that someone is not impacted, such comments are constantly nibbling at that person.
As a result, at any given time, that person is subject to respond in a hostile way. It should be noted that this does not always come in the form of verbal interactions.
What are examples of microassault, microinsult, and microinvalidation?
Consider the following:
- Microassault: The display of behavior and narrative that has emerged in Charlottesville, VA over the last week.
- Microinsult: “you’re so articulate”; “you’re not like most XXX people; “you’re pretty for a XXX person”; “wow, I didn’t know he/she was XXX, you would never know”
- Microinvalidation: “where are you from?”; “I don’t see color”; “I have XXX friends”
CAUTION: our thoughts directly influence our behavior and/or actions. Remember, our intentions are irrelevant. Please note, anyone is capable of initiating one of the aforementioned concepts.
Everyone’s a little bit racist (e.g., racial bias, stereotypes).
CAUTION: Are you aware? Will you own it? Please note, this includes within-group dynamics as well.
Post racial society?
We see and/or hear this phrase is various contexts and often believe that we have reached a new state of development as a society.
But have we? And if we have, to what extent? Some argue that the election of President Obama signifies that race and/or race relations is no longer an issue in the United States. Moreover, some people even proclaim that they don’t see color and in fact, treat everyone “equally”.
But what exactly does this mean? Why do we assume that diversity and inclusion is about race? I raise this question every time I facilitate a discussion about diversity and overwhelming, race is the first concept that comes up.
Why? Unconscious bias and microaggression are not solely race related concepts.
However, more often than not, this (i.e., race) is how people typically associate such concepts.
What does this say about our thought processes and/or worldview?
CAUTION: Racism, Racist, Bigotry, Xenophobia, Stereotypes, and Bias all have different definitions.
My challenge to you is to process the following questions:
- Given that scholars have noted that race is a social construct, what does race tell you about someone?
- What does your racial identity tell you about yourself?
Diversity and Inclusion is NOT about tolerance…
CAUTION: there is a difference between awareness and tolerance.
Many D&I professionals have used the following statement in order to illustrate diversity and inclusion:
“Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
CAUTION: inclusion requires much more than being asked to “dance” as there are multiple factors that interface.
For example, what happens if you don’t know the song? Moreover, what happens when there is a specific set of choreography that aligns with the song?
How will you respond? It’s imperative that we are mindful and intentional about how we process that which is required in order to have a voice and/or as this example illustrates, dance.
What does diversity as a business case mean for your organization?
How do you define your ROI?
CAUTION: recruitment without regard for retention metrics will continue to reinforce traditional silos and/or organizational climates that lack inclusiveness.
If we remove the fence, does that mean that one is automatically guaranteed “access” to the same opportunities?
This is a rhetorical question.
CAUTION: there are ubiquitous factors that reinforce structural barriers in the here are now. In many cases, such barriers are the precursor to our inability to develop and implement “inclusive practices” , regardless of ones industry.
There are uncomfortable conversations that we avoid out of fear of the narrative that will emerge.
It should be noted, however, that avoidance does not prevent various forms of bias (e.g., unconscious, explicit) from developing.
I challenge you to think about the following statement:
“We live in our own reality, blinded by that which encompasses our worldview, and afraid of anything that challenges our positionality.”
Equity and Equality are two totally different concepts. I have interfaced with many different professionals and when it comes to the development of various policies and procedures (e.g., strategic plan), while the intention is to be guided by equity, equality is the decisional framework.
This mindset is part of the reason organizations struggle to define what inclusion means. Have you ever heard someone say “we treat everyone with dignity and respect” when it comes to describing their inclusive practices?
This is a common narrative in the D&I space.
However, when you dissect this, what they are really saying in many cases is we treat everyone equally. This is a major problem LinkedIn.
CAUTION: treating everyone the way you want to be treated is dangerous and disregards your ability to understand their unique lens. This is not inclusion. Instead, treat them the way they want to be treated.
I challenge you to process what this means.
Remember, it’s not your intention that matters, it’s the impact.
Do we really understand what is meant by “Inclusion”?
I have noticed that countless organizations in a variety of industries mention in their vision and/or mission statements the word(s) inclusion, inclusive, inclusive excellence and so forth.
But what do they really mean? Some may say we “value” everyone’s “voice”…but to what extent? Being inclusive requires more than having a seat at the table without a voice.
Seats are reserved (take a moment to process this statement). What about the data one might ask…remember, data can be manipulated to tell the narrative I desire.
We need to thoroughly process how quickly we retreat from said mission and/or vision when someone uses the vary “voice” we claim to welcome that challenges our level of comfort .
In fact, depending on the circumstances, the inclusive environment we promote can quickly turn hostile, looming with practices that demoralize the individual for speaking up.
So LinkedIn, is it better to say we are inclusive ……with restrictions?
CAUTION: Diversity and Inclusion is a practice that continuously evolves.
Credentials (e.g., PhD, JD, MS, BA) and rank (e.g., EVP, SVP, VP, Director) within an organization are nice accolades to have and should provide a framework for how you approach your role/responsibilities.
CAUTION: the aforementioned statuses do not give you a pass on doing “the work” that is necessary to move your role and/or contribution within the organization forward.
Moreover, continuously referencing what you have done at previous places of employment as a defense mechanism is not favorable. As we advance personally and professionally, we cannot rest on that which we have “always” done as it becomes a cookie cutter approach to your work.
Instead, use your experience as a decisional framework to identify the process that is necessary in your current role to achieve desired outcomes.
There is a thin line between being politically savvy and using your voice to influence change.
CAUTION: While it is critical to understand the political framework of your organization, it is equally critical to move beyond just having “a seat at the table” with no voice.
Remember, regardless of the nature of the presenting concern, saying nothing also sends a message.