As we work to become anti-racist, it’s important to understand what microaggressions are and how to address them. In this episode of Off the Charts, we talk with Dr. Benji Mathews, an internal medicine physician at HealthPartners. He discusses microaggressions and how they affect people, what it means to be a bystander versus an upstander, and the four-D method of responding to microaggressions. Listen to the episode or read the transcript.
According to Dr. Mathews, “Simply put, microaggressions [are] a type of an insult that's really rooted in a backdrop of a stereotype. It's directed at someone or at a group because of a particular membership in that group.” A microaggression can be a subtle comment or behavior, like “I don’t see color” or complimenting a person of color on how good their English is.
Dr. Mathews compares microaggressions to papercuts. They’re smaller interactions than outright racism, but they still cause pain and discomfort. And the more papercuts you get, the more harmful they become.
The “four-D” model of responding to microaggressions
Microaggressions are uncomfortable and hurtful. It can be challenging to know what to do if you or someone around you experiences a microaggression. Dr. Mathews talks about the four-D techniques to respond to microaggressions:
- Direct – Be direct by saying something like “that comment crossed the line.”
- Distract – Changing the subject is one way to distract the people you’re talking with and move away from the microaggression.
- Delegate – If someone with more authority or influence is in the conversation, delegate the response to that person.
- Display discomfort – Showing your discomfort can be one of the easiest ways to respond. Use your body language or comments to show that you’re uncomfortable.
Bystanders v. upstanders
If someone near you experiences a microaggression, there are two types of people you can be: a bystander or an upstander. Bystanders are passive spectators. They’re in the situation by chance. Folks in this category don’t speak out against the microaggression. They may believe that someone else will speak up, they may not want to get involved or they may not know what to do.
An upstander is an active participant. These folks take action when they hear or see a microaggression. Even though speaking out may be uncomfortable, they step into the discomfort to address the microaggression. Being an upstander is taking an anti-racist stance.
Listen to the episode to learn more about how Dr. Mathews approaches microaggressions and how you can become an upstander.