Now that we have talked about what microaggressions look and sound like, we now know that being a victim is a predicament. If you have not read part 1 of this 3-part blog series, I invite you to read Responding To Microaggressions In The Workplace to understand what microaggressions are and how they affect marginalized groups in the workplace.

How many times have you overheard someone expressing discriminatory opinions? How many of these times did you feel uncomfortable by the language used? You knew you should have intervened to help but you didn’t? You were a bystander. A bystander, in this context, can be anyone including the victim. Researchers have expanded this term to mean individuals who only have a superficial development or unclear awareness of racially biased behaviors.

Being a bystander doesn’t necessarily mean that you have no awareness of racism. In a situation where prejudice is expressed intervening could be difficult. According to “Disarming Racial Microaggressions: Microinterventions Strategies for Targets, White Allies, and Bystanders”,  bystanders represent the largest plurality of people in society. There are many reasons for this. First, people are afraid of making a situation more hostile or misinterpreting the situation. Second, people refrain from being an active bystander because of fear of retaliation, not wanting to get involved, or fear of losing friends. In some cases, it may be because people are not fully aware of the affects microaggressions have on people.


What Can I Do Next Time? – You Become an Ally.

So how can you become an ally? As an ally you have the desire to decrease/end social injustice and inequality, to end the disparities between marginalized groups. As an ally you desire to advocate for equality, not because of white guilt or seeking glory as the “white savior”. According to “Disarming Racial Microaggressions: Mircointerventions Strategies for Targets, White Allies, and Bystanders”, when an individual expects to get credit, boasting their self-righteousness, and won’t even accept criticism from others, their work as an ally can be questionable.

Zara Abrams explains that to be an ally it is important to know how to intervene in microaggressions. There are effective ways to intervene. First, you can make the “Invisible” visible. This is when you bring the microaggression right in front of their awareness. This allows you to describe to the perpetrator how they have offended you and probably others around them, forcing them to reconsider their way of thinking, speaking and interacting with others. When allies or bystanders do something to intervene, the victim gets a reassurance that they are not “crazy” and that their experiences are valid.

Examples of What To Say or Do:

You overhear a coworker saying, “You better be careful with that one, put your ring in a safe place, they don’t look very trusting.” You can intervene with, “Robberies and crimes are committed by people of all races and backgrounds. That was very disrespectful, and I will not tolerate comments like that.”

Another great strategy is disarming the microaggression, which is done by instantly stopping or deflecting it. This gives you the ability to control where the conversation may go. Make sure to communicate your disagreement or disapproval in their actions. Immediately doing so will prevent traumatization and give the victim a sense of sanctuary, knowing that others did not agree or let go of the situation. In “How Bystanders Can Shut Down Microaggressions”, Abrams explains how you need to be able to tailor your approach to the situation. Situational factors, such as what type of microaggression, the relations between the people involved, and even location, help determine what approach is best. Another way you can deflect or instantly stop a microaggression is by stating loudly and emphatically, “Ouch!”. This brings attention to what the perpetrator said and gives them a moment to retrack and apologize. When you do this, it also gives you the chance to educate the perpetrator.

Examples of What to Say

There is a new co-worker who has a visible disability, and you overhear a co-worker saying to another co-worker, “He only got the job because he is handicapped.”

Respond with, “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not making offensive comments.”

Being a bystander, it is important to always try to educate perpetrators. Microinterventions may be uncomfortable, but it is important to communicate that the mircointervention is not meant to be punitive, rather educational. The ultimate goal of being an ally to educate them in what they have done that has been proven to be offensive and what their comments say about their values and consideration of marginalized group members. Cultural competence for some individuals takes longer to comprehend. It is important to have brief encounters with perpetrators and constantly give subtle reminders. If they are frequently being reminded, they may become more aware of their surroundings and usage of language.

Allies and bystanders put themselves at risk in every microintervention and can be emotionally drained. Seeking help from someone with a higher authority like Human Resources or your supervisor can be beneficial. It is a good idea to let someone else know and seek external reinforcement or support where an investigation could occur. Speaking from other’s experiences it is important to report microaggressions to a supervisor because there could have been other instances with the same person. “Disarming Racial Microaggressions: Microinterventions Strategies for Targets, White Allies, and Bystanders”, explains how racial awareness trainings have been found to be effective in helping employees recognize prejudicial and discriminatory actions. Studies have also shown that by providing awareness trainings, microinterventions do increase in the workplace.

Anyone can intervene in microaggressions, but it is necessary to keep in mind your location, pick your battles, as in knowing if the victim needs you to intervene or not, and make sure you speak for yourself and not others, adjusting your responses to the situation. Microaggressions are very common. Companies need to consider offering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion trainings that will help their employees learn to communicate respectfully and collaboratively grow their cultural awareness with the company. Invista Performance Solutions dedicates its time to helping companies of all sizes who aspire to grow their job skills.  Click on the link to learn all about our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion trainings and learn how to get started.