Chester Pierce, a psychiatrist at Harvard University, first introduced the term microaggression in the 1970s. Microaggression consists of small, subtle forms of bullying and discrimination. It can be on the basis of gender, race, class, physique, you name it. Microaggression is actually not a suitable word-why worry about it if it’s micro? – but more important is what it refers to. The pain in microaggression is often not even in the remarks themselves, but in the worldview behind them: the microaggressor’s almost self-evident attitude that the other is less than. 

Everyday racism

Microaggressions, also called everyday racism, are actions, remarks and events that (often unconsciously) discriminate against people from marginalized groups. The side comments, ‘jokes’ and assumptions seem small, but they are a constant attack on the self-image and social safety of the victims. “Get over it” or “grow a thicker skin” are common responses to microaggressions. Victims may then begin to doubt themselves, blame themselves, and eventually stop responding, which often leads to demotivation.

Microaggression makes someone an outsider

Belgian sociologist Salomé Ysebaert elaborates on what actually makes “microaggressions” harmful. “The fact that microaggressions are considered harmless by the person who expresses them is what makes them harmful in the first place. It shows that the person on the other side of the conversation is considered an ‘outsider.’ The comments are an expression of the outdated stigmas that are still deeply ingrained in our society.” Microaggressions are widespread and can occur anywhere: from education to organizational culture. But also in manners in the workplace or in means of communication. Furthermore, it is important to look at the relationship between the person and the microaggressor. Research shows that there is often a problem if there is a hierarchical relationship between the person and the microaggressor.

Examples of microaggressions

To a Dutch woman of Turkish descent: ‘Your Dutch is so good.’Asking a white mother with a black baby, ‘Whose kid is this?’
To a badly parked car: ‘A woman, again!’‘Where are you really from?” – Even though that person identifies as Dutch.’
‘I’m not a racist, I have friends of color.’‘Rhythm is in your blood, isn’t it.’
‘You don’t act like someone who is black.’‘’It must have been because of your looks.’
‘You are beautiful … for someone of color.’‘I don’t see color.’

The impact is underestimated

Belgian clinical psychologist, Delia Mensitieri, conducted research this year on barriers to an inclusive culture. Mensitieri is active at Deloitte as an associate manager. Her research is called Again & Again. Preliminary results of the study indicate that 93% of victims do not respond to microaggressions; 85% of respondents in the study indicated that they felt hurt by microaggressions. Research in the U.S. shows that the impact of microaggressions is often even heavier on victims than overt discrimination. Victims sometimes go into depression and or burnout as a result. 

An inclusive company culture allows room for differences

Most victims of microaggressions, therefore, remain silent and step down. Silence does not solve the problem. Some employers see people coming in and going out but don’t know why. It is essential to be aware of microaggressions as a company. This is especially true in times of a tight labour market. In the Netherlands, the UK or the US, people are working hard to create an inclusive corporate culture. In Belgium, Mensitieri indicates, employers are still in the phase: “How do I attract diverse talent?” But also in Belgium the next step has to be taken. Talking about microaggression is crucial. A company must indicate what it can and cannot do without losing sight of the nuances. The fact that there are great sensitivities among certain groups today means that things are quickly experienced as offensive. It is just as important to recognize that people can go into overdrive. Otherwise, you end up in a situation as a company where people feel they can’t say anything anymore. That’s why dialogue is so important. Because let it be clear: in the end, we have to do it together!


‘Sorry, ik dacht dat je een Marokkaan was’:

Maak jij je schuldig aan micro-agressies? ‘Ik zie geen kleur’ is daar een goed voorbeeld van :

Micro-agressies: Hoe ze te herkennen, te hanteren, en uw vrede te beschermen:

Micro-agressie: een onderschat probleem



Doe jij onbewust aan alledaags racisme? Sociologe over de schadelijke gevolgen ervan:

Wie discriminatie ervaart op het werk zwijgt en stapt op: 

Ga naar de inhoud