In the 4th episode of the Diversity Dialogues special, Madhumitha Venkataraman discussed with RJ Shilok about microaggressions. “Small and little things that we do sometimes, even unintentionally, can hurt somebody and express prejudices. These are known as microaggressions.” Madhumita says. People may confess that they didn’t mean to stereotype, but the person they are speaking to is still liable to get hurt.
Madhumitha has worked as an HR professional for a decade now and is a diversity and inclusion evangelist working across spaces of gender, disability, LGBTQIA+ and generational diversity. She currently leads the diversity and inclusion office for a large MNC and has been instrumental in conceptualising and executing India’s first accessible pride.
The reason, she says, behind microaggressions is that all of us hold some or the other kind of bias and often times, we tend to stereotype. “As it is very difficult to assess each individual for who they are, people tend to stereotype. Even cultural context plays a vital role here. Where in the USA, people talk openly, discuss gender, sexuality, as well as alternate sexuality, in India these issues remain a taboo.” The biases often stem from our lived realities.
To address microaggressions, be more self-aware – always check what you are saying and how you are saying it. It isn’t an easy task to build such an intrinsic awareness, so many organisations run programmes relating to unconscious biases. When dealing with microaggressions, be careful to not get very defensive. Apologising is good, too. To correct microaggressions, one can rephrase the said statements to recontextualise them. Or, one can clearly state that what was said was disrespectful or unlikable. Microaggressions can also be dealt through conversations, with a friendly empathetic manner being employed to explain why they are wrong.
Written by Poushali Banik