The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Have you ever been confused between accepting a compliment or feeling offended?
I know, when I put it like this it seems like an obvious distinction, but in reality it might not be. An example that hits home for me is when someone call me pretty cute for a someone overweight. The first urge is to say "thanks", but when you read it again, you see the problem right away. Does that mean fat people can't be cute? Am I "privileged" for managing being both fat and cute? Bottom line: it isn't a compliment.
What is it, then? A microaggression!
According to Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups." Thin veiled, everyday instances of racism, homophobia, sexism and more. Whoever does it, might either be really malicious or just naive inside their own bubble of privilege while not being aware of their biases.
Needless to say how they affect minorities and people of color:
"You're so pretty for a black girl!"
“When I see you, I don’t see color.”
"Can you tame your hair? It would look good straight."
"You don't know math? But you are Japanese!"
Microaggressions reinforce white privilege and undermine a culture of inclusion. Don't be fooled, the "micro" in the terminology doesn't mean it doesn't impact people's life expressively. On the contrary, the "small" and continuous dosage of it builds on to becoming unbearable. 73% of women experience microaggressions, or everyday slights rooted in bias.
You might ask me now... How can we fight this?
My opinion is that it depends on the circumstance, but whenever possible, we should address these microaggressions right away. Firstly, because the person is probably way too deep into their bias to realize the harm in their words. Secondly, if you have your feelings hurt, you shouldn't have to suck them in. Express what you're feeling, question people's words. We need to make them uncomfortable to the point they think before they speak.
A good way of starting the conversation is asking "What do you mean?"... do that and watch people struggle to find a good explanation. When you ask that, the person may or may not realize their mistake, but odds are they might be defensive, in denial of their discriminating words. Acknowledge that you accept their "good intentions" but reframe the conversation around the impact of the microaggression. Explain how you initially interpreted it and why. Also, remind them that intent does not supersede impact.
Finally, pick your fights wisely. Sometimes you might encounter people that are just not worth fighting. Spare yourself from energy suckers!