The Sting Behind a Smile: The Malevolence of Micro Aggressions

Micro aggression:a passive act of abrasive intentions and undertones.


Prejudice has not been eliminated from contemporary society, overt prejudice has. Long gone are the days of blunt statements denouncing  minorities or signs of exclusion. Present are invitations strategically placed and worded to include a small few and discard the potential of participation of others. Present are words of venom shielded with a smile, derogatory intentions masked with a laugh. Present is the same prejudice of the past in an aged, but still very racist society that has changed the demeanor but not the intent.

1.“ So I’ll be issuing you a class that begins at 8 am. I just want to make sure you’ll be able to make it on time.”

This is an actual statement from a former employer. This statement followed previous scheduling (by the same employer) of 8-3 on a Saturday, of which I was never late. 29234_PE116289_S5While some may say this is a general query, I find it hard to believe that my age and minority faction didn’t make my former employer question my ability to perform to an early schedule.

2. “Was going to college like an option for you? For me it was always known that I’d go to college, and then some form of graduate or professional school.”

Now,I initially felt that this remark was just sheer arrogance. However, the consistency of hearing this roll off the tongue of those outside the black diaspora (to me and others of my origin) revealed this statement to be of malicious intent. This statement is a micro aggression because it implies that blacks are less intellectually or educationally motivated than whites. This statement also conveniently overlooks the oppression and discrimination black face in the plight of obtaining an education, which is readily available for their white counterparts. This statement also displays an ignorance to the foundation of which higher education. Westernized higher education was established on the idea of exclusion, the included continue to further exclude those without privilege in micro aggressions like these.

3. “You know who really had it bad? The Native Americans”

This micro aggression is harmful for two reasons.

A. “Had it bad” is a large understatement for the theft and genocide faced by Native Americans. To downplay what European greed and entitlement did to the true Americans is inappropriate and a testament to ignorance and a lack of character.

B. This statement usually follows a discussion of the disenfranchisement of blacks, as if to counter the horror of American slavery with the feat of Native Americans. Perhaps a more appropriate engagement of these two minority factions would be an evaluation of the common cause of both tragedies…

4. “I’d really like you to meet my friend.”

One hundred percent of the time, this desire to meet your friend is not because we both like the color blue, or like indie books, but because we are both black. While you may think you’re being helpful, but you’re not. Black folks don’t need help meeting other black folks and certainly not from people outside the black diaspora who reduce the culture of blackness to a color.

This is a micro aggression because it operates under the premise that all lack people like one another or seek companionship based on this prospective companion being black.

5. “You’re/their spouse is white/Latino/Indian/Samoan/Asian? The baby will be SOO cute/have good hair.”

This is a micro aggression stated by those within and without the black diaspora.Like all micro aggression this comment appears to mean well, but has an insulting undertone. The innuendo, whether intentional or not, suggests that black genes aren’t beautiful on their own. This statement interestingly implies that blackness is at it’s best when watered down or paired with a race or ethnicity outside of the black diaspora. Interestingly, I’ve never heard this remark upon hearing two blacks with no western attributes (fair skin, light eyes, long hair) are expecting.


5. Staring

Now perhaps is this is the most understated of all micro aggressions. I have seen and experienced the bodies of black women stared at like a misplaced piece of furniture in an otherwise perfect room.

While staring is an abrasive way to tell blacks that their presence and bodies are an imposition, it is also a way to cast scrutiny on material goods deemed out of the reach of blackness. eyes-260571_150

Upon going to get a pedicure one afternoon a woman stared at my purse for the duration of my services. Upon my departure she she asked where I have gotten my purse. After issuing my response she rendered an unmistakably condescending laugh and said “ I thought it was a $5000.”

6.(insert ambition here) is really competitive

This was another one that I never associated with being a micro aggression. My realization came as my ambitions became larger and this statement was inserted with the cruel intention of thwarting my dreams. This “it’s really competitive remark” became a consistent statement from those outside of the black diaspora, as if to really mean that blacks aren’t proper competition.

7.Being issued a check before you’ve finished your meal.


This really says that we think you’re going to run out on the check, so before you can,I’m going to issue you your payment as a nudge to “do the right thing”

This is a micro aggression that also reflects poor etiquette with regard to proper treatment to those who patronize a business. This gesture simply suggests that you discriminate against those who foster your livihood, making anyone who displays this behavior undeserving of business. The dollars

8. Can I help you?

This micro aggression translates to: I think you might steal so I just want to let you know that you are seen. Thus, there is no true intention to service you, but a hope that you’ll see yourself out.

9. Can I start you a fitting room?

This micro aggression translates to: I’ve lost count of the items that you have in your hand and wish for self assurance that you haven’t stolen anything

I was blissfully unaware of this reality until I had the tumultuous experience of working retail. Here, we were asked plenty of times to “check up” on clients or “start a fitting room.”   In hindsight my manager used my blackness to shield her own prejudice, as all the clients I was asked to “check up on” or “start a fitting room for” were also black.

10. “Are you all the way black? You’re not that dark.”
“Your hair isn’t nappy, you don’t have black hair.”
“If I wasn’t looking at you, I wouldn’t think you were African American.”

The previous three quotes illustrate the micro aggressions through exceptionalism. Often, blacks are only regarded as beautiful, intelligent a remarkable if they are “less” black. The fallacy of exceptionalism appeals to black whose insecurity thrives on the approval or whites and others outside the black diaspora. This is a micro aggressions that often go without notice or confrontation because they appear to be a compliment. However, a true compliment of a part does not discredit the whole, thus praising blacks for their lack of blackness is a dig at blackness and therefore not a compliment.

So beware of the poison that lies behind the smile, or the seemingly kind delivery of a micro aggression. And if you read any of these, and see a description of your actions then remember that they key in micromanaging Micro aggressions is simple- know that you are making them.

What micro aggressions have you experienced?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pearline says:

    You’re so interesting! I do not think I’ve truly read anything like that before.
    So nice to discover someone wiith a few uniique thoughts on thus subject matter.
    Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up.
    This website is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality!

  2. Cherie Uerkvitz says:

    With all due respect. I’m white and I’ve been mistreated (microagressed) for not being rich enough or hip enough or cool enough, smart enough, pretty enough. I’d like to call it pride, not aggression, and we all have it. I

    Iam a nice person, I talk to everyone, with a smile and a compliment. Do I always receive the same treatment? Heck, No. People are self-conscious, arrogant, shy, depressed, unfocused, hyper-focused, lost, evil, good, amazing, deceptive, crazy, dumb. People are basically People. People are vastly different, race is not.

    Race is an idea, a social experiment to ignore the soul and uphold the pride of self and differences. It is an identity put on display before the world, but does our race define us, or does our hearts, minds and actions define us?

    Culture can be extremely different, but most people in all corners of the world are generally good and trying to do their best. The media, politics, powers that be, love to pit class against class, human against human. Yet we all desire love, friendship, security, family, happiness and success. We are all human first.

    Pride is the opposite of humility. Humility is not oppressed or less than but humble, teachable, meek, kind. Pride is a human trait and it usually is born of insecurities or selfishness. Racism, hate, evil, does indeed exist, Nazi’s, Margaret Sanger, communism, murderous dictatorships, one race against another is historically accurate.

    How do we change this? In some ways we can’t, people are strikingly complex and they remain ignorant. Some are plain evil, yes. How do we change a wrong to a right? We change it by starting with ourselves, loving, accepting, bettering, empowering our hearts to be humble, teachable. Then we pass it on.

    This divide and conquer mentality is an orchestrated agenda to separate, anger and destroy us. Women, men, races, humans are in the crosshairs of a fabricated war. The war of me vs. you. Him vs her. The perpetual conflict of misunderstanding, pride and hate. Governments, power and pride have destroyed innocence and humanity.

    We have to fight evil with good. Fight Ignorance with knowledge. Fight hate with love. Fight pride with humility. Otherwise, nothing really changes. People continue to tell us how to feel, act, attack, hate.

    We desperately need to think for ourselves, and know that everyone was once a child, an innocent, precious miracle of life, a humble teachable creature desiring nothing but love, acceptance and safety.
    If we return to innocence and pure childlike love. We can conquer the hate and division plaguing our hearts and neighborhoods, then maybe the world.

    Excuse any mistakes, misunderstanding, or typos

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