Migrant Tales (October 5, 2013): Microaggressions: How “law-abiding” community members discriminate

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Microaggressions, the subject of a book by Derald Wing Sue of the Teachers College, Columbia University, highlights perfectly one of the ongoing problems in Finland. Microaggressions occur unconsciously and underline inclusion-exclusion and superiority-inferiority.  They are everyday putdowns, insults that aim to undermine the dignity of visible minorities, women, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights or those who are marginalized, according to Sue. 


One example of microaggressions that the video shows is between a student (Oriental background) and a university official (white). The official thinks he’s offering the student a compliment: “You know you speak excellent English,” he says.

The seemingly innocent comment disturbs the student, which implies that he isn’t a true US American and is made to feel like a perceived alien in his country.

How many times have we been in the same situation in Finland?

My son, who was born in Finland, was once told by a manager at work that he spoke “excellent Finnish.”

While the manager meant no harm, the comment revealed his narrow view of who he considers Finns. His comment suggests that Finns have Finnish first and last names.

Says Sue: “Microaggressions often appear to be a compliment but contain metaommunication or a hidden insult to the target group…it is delivered by people who engage in microaggression [and] are ordinary folks who experience themselves [as] good moral decent individuals.”

And adds: “Microaggressions occur because they are outside the level of conscious awareness of the perpetrator.”

So how should we challenge daily microaggressions?

Sue offers five points that we need to do individually:

  • Learn from constant vigilance (study your own biases and fears)
  • Experiential reality (interact with people who differ from you in terms of ethnicity and culture)
  • Don’t be defensive (don’t take it personally)
  • Be open to discussing your own attitudes and biases and how they may have hurt others
  • Be an ally (stand up against bias and discrimination)

Thank you Glenn Robinson of Community Village for the heads-up. 

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