Notes on: Washington, E., Birch, A. & Roberts, L. (2020)  When and How to Respond to Microaggressions. Harvard Business Review JULY 03, 2020

Dave Harris

Conversations about micro-aggressions are uncomfortable for both Blacks and Whites. [There is the usual definition: hostile, derogatory, negative slights and insults, ubiquitous, seemingly innocuous and so on, probably based on Sue] they can be harmful, reinforce white privilege, and stop inclusion. The best solution is to be aware of them but there is a general issue of how Black employees and managers should respond.

First they should let it go not address offensive comments. Confronting them can be emotionally draining, but silence 'places an emotional tax on black employees' (3). Second they could respond immediately, call out the transgression and explain the impact while the details are fresh but it can be risky and the perpetrator can get defensive and imply that the target lost control and is oversensitive or stereotypically angry. Third respond later addressing the perpetrator privately but the risk lies in the timelag and it requires parties to remember what happened and this can look like harbouring resentment or gas lighting. [All horribly cautious and useless then]

The recommended framework is to discern, decide how much of an investment you want to make rather than responding to every incident. This issue is if the relationship important --  if so avoidance is the wrong approach, but you have to express yourself in a suitable way to show you care for the other person and yet are concerned about the issue. Micro-aggressions can make you doubt the legitimacy of your reactions so you have to allow yourself to feel what you feel, but sometimes it might be better to let emotions cool or fatigue to dissipate. Deciding how you want to be perceived now and in the future is important.

You might have to disarm the person who committed the micro- aggression and that might make them defensive. You explain that the conversation might be uncomfortable for them but that you are uncomfortable and that you need to get to the bottom of it together.

You may have to defy, by challenging, demanding clarification, requesting further information, explaining how it could be interpreted.

[I would do all of this with a witness. Same if you are confronted with a complaint]

You may have to decide the significance of the incident for your life and work, whether you will increase stereotypes and evaluations, whether you want to take on further work.

There is also advice for potential allies or anyone accused of committing micro-aggression:
'• Remember that intent does not supersede impact.
• Seek to understand the experiences of your Black peers, bosses, and employees without making them responsible for your edification.
• Believe your Black colleagues when they choose to share their insights; don’t get defensive or play devil’s advocate.
• Get comfortable rethinking much of what you thought to be true about the world and your workplace and accept that you have likely been complicit in producing inequity.' (5)

The piece ends by urging everyone to be authentic.

[All good and well that in the current atmosphere of course impossible, because it will lead to complaint, punishment. Any attempt to show willing will be seen as guilt, you're almost forced to deny everything from the beginning. It also encourages a kind of counter micro-aggression behaviour, insincere versions of the bullet points, trotting out the approved words in a kind of legalistic framework].