DEAR MISS MANNERS: My family is actively trying to be anti-racist and would like some help understanding microaggressions. Can you put this in simple terms that we can explain to our children? It’s already a big word!
Our school is wanting to start tracking microagressions experienced by students, and I want to do my best to teach my kids about them at home so they don’t get in trouble.
GENTLE READER: Microaggressions are a tricky concept. Often disguised as compliments or pleasantries, and seemingly unintentional, they contain implicit bias and are rooted in a system of inequality and unfair advantages.
It is Miss Manners’ optimistic belief that, left to their own devices, children start out free from prejudice, but also with little understanding of their own privilege -- if they have it. (Most adults are only now beginning to grasp this concept.) This gives you the opportunity to educate them early on. By the time unconscious bias turns to purposeful and aggressive bullying, it is too late.
You can start at home by educating yourself and then talking to children about intersectionality and demographics other than their own. Children respond particularly well to “How would you feel if ...” scenarios. Perhaps you can complete that question with some of these:
-- if someone made assumptions about you based on what you looked like?
-- if someone made jokes about you, or singled you out for something that was part of who you are?
-- if someone gave you a compliment, but you felt like it really wasn’t?
-- if someone asked you pointed questions about your family or background, but did not do that to others?
-- if someone constantly made you feel different?
Finally, it may be tempting for you to ask others about their experiences in the name of “research.” Do not. Almost as important as the education itself is that the burden not be put upon the very people who are victims of it. Ironically, that in and of itself is a microaggression.