Observing Microaggressions

In our discussions this week we’ve discussion several types of microaggressions. Dr. Sue defines microaggressions as “brief everyday indignities that are verbal, behavioral or environmental, that they may be intentional or unintentionally communicated to women, to people of color, to gay/lesbians that have an insulting message behind them that often time causes severe psychological distress and harm” (Laureate Education, 2011). My example of such witnessed behavior is below.

Last week I observed an interesting interaction between a senior manager and a colleague of mine. Over the course of the last three years, the various IT departments have been merging into one division. The organization has elected to adopt the infrastructure of the current contract team that I along with my colleague and senior manager is assigned to. The primary responsibility of our organization is to ensure that each IT task is properly managed from security concerns to daily operational procedures and to provide excellent customer care to our clients.

The senior manager, who is African-American, responsible for our specific contract is fairly new to the team. There are three women, one white and two black (one of which is me) that comprises this mostly male dominated team. The cultural diversity of our team is well blended with several Middle Eastern, Caribbean, African, United States Caucasian and African-American staff members. Upon his arrival, he made a statement that he would personally meet each staff person and get a broad view of our job responsibilities and concerns. The conversation took place with two team leads and a few other staff members. I have been team lead of my group for seven years. He’s had conversations with my co-worker about our duties but has yet to ask me anything specifically. The manager has made snide comments passing them as light humor which many of the staff members are uncomfortable with. I don’t think it’s his intention to be blatantly insensitive but his verbal and non-verbal cues scream “I’m more superior than you, deal with it attitude”. This attitude is not only being observed by direct staff members, but other colleagues from other agencies as well. After a couple of weeks, the senior manager initiated several office changes to the dismay of the staff that was not open for review or discussion. The manager often mentions his former career in the military as his defining character of discipline and order. His efforts and commands come across extremely rigid and unbending.

Last week, there was a meeting to introduce some new policies and team members to a sub-division of the operations staff. The other black female on our team has met with the senior manager a few times to address valid integration issues coming our way and how they are going to be managed. She is well-respected, and has been involved in implementing procedures and policies for her specific job function for several years without incident. Each meeting the senior manager has been dismissive and not taking her initiatives or comments seriously. The senior manager scheduled a meeting regarding the integration meeting without consulting her or her team lead, who always has agreed with the initiatives and policies she’s helped implement. Minutes prior to the meeting he told her “there will be no bantering initiated by you”. The entire office heard him and the tone of his voice was extremely offensive. Because she voiced her concerns in a professional manner that he was unhappy with and took five minutes away from the office to compose herself after being belittled, the manager contacted her primary hiring company and had her reprimanded for insubordination. His actions could cost my colleague her job.

There are so many wrongs I can’t name them all. I’ve decided to address my direct concerns at our next all hands meeting to see if the posture he takes is regarding the entire team or he’s targeting specific individuals. I’d like to believe that all of my life experiences has prepared me to work in a professional and courteous manner with any person that I meet. As an educator and parent, I try to maintain a conscious level of compassion in my discussions on cultural and diversity and to respectful of other’s values even if they are in direct conflict with mine. By showing them that respect I believe we can find compromises and understandings. For those unwilling to change, I will still show them the same courtesy and respect that I’ve been taught to show.


Laureate Education (Producer). (2011). Microaggressions in everyday life [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

2 thoughts on “Observing Microaggressions

  1. This is certainly an example of intentional microaggression, based on this person’s repeated behavior that he feels superior to the other members of his team. He does not seem to recognize or value the experience of his other team members, and also fails to realize that by promoting a cooperative environment, problem will get solved much more creatively and with respect to everyone. I think your idea of speaking out at the next all hands meeting is an excellent idea, because it will get the concerns out in the open while ensuring that there are witnesses to how you handle the situation in a professional manner and his reaction. Hopefully his superiors will recognize this as a problem and work with your team to help solve it in a professional and respectful manner.

  2. Wow I think that the environment where a microaggression takes place defintely can make it harder to address issues of discrimination especially when it comes to someone who is your employer or supervisor. I think it’s awesome that your willing to stand up and make your voice heard although it may be uncomfortable it is the first step towards making change!

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