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Microaggressions are everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults -- whether intentional or unintentional -- that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to individuals based solely upon their marginalized group membership*. Microaggressions repeat or affirm stereotypes about a minority group, and they tend to minimize the existence of discrimination or bias, intentional or not. [1]

Microaggressions can be verbal, non-verbal, or environmental. Three types include microinsults (usually unconscious, and convey rudeness/insensitivity); microassaults (often conscious, and are deliberately and derogatory); and microinvalidations (usually unconscious, and exclude the thoughts, feelings, or experiences of a minority group).


  • To an Asian person, “You must be good in math, can you help me with this problem?”
  • “As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.”
  • Faculty of color mistaken for a service worker.
  • Use of the pronoun “he” to refer to all people.
  • An advisor sends an email to another work colleague describing another individual as a “good Black scientist.”

What Does Research Say?

A leading social scientist in this area, Derald Wing Sue, notes that microaggressions typically fall below the radar of well-intentioned members of a dominant culture. They are distinct from deliberate acts of bigotry, because typically people are unaware of the interpretation and/or harm on an individual from a minority group.

What Can Be Done to Counter Microaggressions?

For helpful tips to recognize and avoid microaggressions, take a look at this interactive tool developed by the University of California, Los Angeles for diversity and faculty development purposes.

It categorizes microaggressions into various areas, provides examples, and explains the messages they convey.


[1] Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014



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