Micro-Aggressions as Results of Unconscious/Implicit Bias: Are they Micro, or Macro?
The following post focuses on the direct effects unconscious bias and micro-aggressions can have on people’s creativity, productivity, effectiveness and performance; leading to negative net-effects organizationally.
Are they really Micro, M.I.C.R.O, or Macro-Aggressions?
Recently, while traveling for business, I experienced a situation during my hotel stay. A friend met me at my hotel for dinner. Upon his arrival, an attendant from the front desk called my room to alert me of his presence. I thanked him and asked for the guest to be allowed to my room. The employee told me I needed to personally escort the guest to my room. I explained to the employee that other guests (colleagues) at the hotel had visitors and the front desk had allowed those visitors to pass with a key. I myself had several visitors throughout the week, and they went directly to my room with my approval. Upon hearing this, the employee stated that he would allow this particular guest to proceed to my room but needed to verify the last four digits of the credit card in order to proceed. I refused, becoming increasingly frustrated and annoyed. I asked why he made such a request. His response was, “How do I know you are actually the person who is paying for the room?” It instantly became very clear to me that this was about more than following the rules.
This was about a lack of comfort on the part of the employee, no benefit of the doubt based upon subtle distrust; leading to the conclusion, action and likelihood of choosing to enforce policy in this distinct situation. Could it have something to do with the fact that the guest was a tall, dark-skinned, broad-shouldered black male – who was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt? In distinct contrast, all of my other guests were non-black (two were female – one white, and one Latina; the other male was Hispanic/Latino). In addition, guests of other colleagues were white and they had also not been exposed to any such scrutiny. Could the attendant’s reaction be the result of my perceived blackness? Why was this visitor being required to do something that at least 5 other visitors were not made to do?
As a result of this exchange with the employee, I proceeded to the lobby. I asked to speak with the manager and was greeted by someone who by all accounts was not helpful and escalated the situation. I shared details, and asked questions outlined above. I wanted to understand the stark distinctions and differences surfacing in this situation. I was paying more than $1,200 to stay at this property and all of a sudden I felt like a criminal. Rather than attempt to understand, empathize and/or relate, the supervisor stated and restated the employee followed policy. I became increasingly frustrated and disappointed due to the inability to connect with the supervisor, and the unwillingness of the supervisor to understand impacts of the experience. The insincere, snide utterances of “Sorry you feel that way.” And “It’s unfortunate you didn’t know the policy,” made the situation worse.
The absence of empathy, understanding, sincerity and compassion prompted an escalation of emotional, mental and physical stress. I found myself becoming saturated with negative emotions; anger, frustration, discontent, and disgust. Was this a case of both conscious and unconscious bias? Yes. Was the situation entirely about race? Absolutely not! Was race a mitigating factor? Definitely. Other compounding factors contributed to the unfolding of unconscious bias in this situation too; such as age, height, color (light-skinned vs. dark-skinned), hair texture, voice inflection and accent – and so many more variables (which are mostly tied to race). However, the undeniable fact was that out of several different (six) situations involving visitors, this situation was handled differently. As a result, the situation unfolded in a series of various micro-aggressions (a term that members of mainstream society have coined and defined as “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority”).
I reflected on the essence of this situation, and other situations I (and others from marginalized groups) navigate daily and I concluded there is nothing small (micro) about the happenings and impacts of such experiences; whether isolated or perpetual occurrences. On the contrary, the burden of shouldering weights of ongoing relentless types of happenings is severe. The constant reminder of not belonging, not being good enough, suspicion, disregard, invisibility, lack of benefit of the doubt, subtle indignities (and the list goes on and on) has a tremendous impact; especially over time.
The unfortunate theme, illusion and inference of micro signifies that the event is isolated and/or a minimal offense. Yet, to the one impacted the effects are tumultuous, long-lasting.
Multiply such occurrences times 10-15 per day (being on average how many times I personally navigate such experiences) - and imagine how you might begin to feel emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually at ages 15, 25, 35, 45, 55 and beyond. Imagine the effects of such duress on performance, productivity and functionality in the realm of education, employment and even socially. Imagine the impacts to organizations. How much productivity is lost as a result?
These instances have profound meaning. They stifle potential, creativity and productivity of one’s ability to live wholly, freely and healthily. They work to reinforce invisible systems of superiority vs. inferiority (emotional and mental oppression), reinforcing internalized inferiority and insecurities for those from marginalized groups.
After dealing with this situation, I was emotionally drained. It impacted the entire evening, as my guests and I were not easily able to move onto other things. I actually slept-in the next morning and arrived late to the last day of the conference. Due to a lack of rest, I was unable to participate and engage conference sessions with the same vigor, interests and excitement as I had days prior. The previous evening’s events took its toll mentally, emotionally and physically.
I submit the following: if you hear the term Micro-Aggressions, consider this: Are they something of small value or effect, or are they being Made Into Considerably Reduced Offenses, using mainstream society’s limited relationship and acknowledgement of cultural oppression?
Important considerations are:
- What are the impacts to individuals on the receiving end?
- How many other instances have these individuals had to navigate and deal with throughout their experiences (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.)?
What are the cumulative effects of such experiences?
For example, going to Target and the clerk asks three customers in front of you (who happen to be White) if they would like to apply for a credit card and does not ask you; yet proceeds to ask a white customer behind you if they too, would like to apply. Or, in another example you move into a townhouse community and you receive five violations of community regulations and rules (CC&R’s) within 12 months (music/television too loud, garage door was left open, placing the “wrong type” of screen-door unit, placing satellite dish above unit, being told it was “too big”, leaving empty recycling bins in front of garage too many hours after the truck emptied them); Or attending a work bar-b-que in a Minnesota summer with more than 100 colleagues and you happen to be the only black person who asks to use the bug spray that everyone else is applying; yet you are jokingly told (in the presence of 10-15 other colleagues at your table), that the bugs out here do not like “dark meat” out here.
As a result of the bar-b-que incident, I left the event and did not attend any additional activities with my colleagues. I sat in my hotel room the entire evening journaling about “dark meat,” while sulking in tears. Although, I pulled myself together for the next day and pretended as though I was not affected, I was. The effects manifested in a lack of engagement with others, difficulties in future collaborations and an immense case of stereotype threat, which made my hyper-aware and insecure of my blackness in any and all professional situations. This ultimately led to a decrease in engagement and productivity, stifling my overall performance.
These are mere examples of my own personal experiences. I am not certain I have the solution to remedy such slights and injustices. However, I offer the idea of continuous exposure to cultural and social awareness, competence, sensitivity and humility training. The priority of continued personal learning and development is necessary to be able to challenge such ideologies, beliefs and traditions; rooted in disadvantageous stereotypes and stigmas. M.I.C.R.O-Aggressions can be addressed only when the root causes of their influences are fully explored, understood, confronted and combated continuously.
If you are interested in diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural sensitivity seminars/workshops/trainings, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org