What are microaggressions?

Microaggressions are verbal and nonverbal interpersonal exchanges in which a perpetrator causes harm to a target, whether intended or unintended. Micro refers to the interpersonal, microlevel context of the act, and aggressions refer to insults, invalidations, and assaults that may manifest as verbal or nonverbal behaviors that cause indirect, social, and relational forms of harm, such as exclusion, with or without intentions to do so. These brief and commonplace indignities communicate hostile, derogatory, negative slights to the target. In identifying microaggressions, we value the target’s perceptions in identifying harm, as perpetrators often are unaware that they have engaged in an exchange that demeans the target.

Early theorizing focused solely on racial microaggressions. The term microaggressions was first coined by African American psychiatrist and Harvard University professor, Chester Middlebrook Pierce, who defined microaggressions as subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal put-downs directed toward people of color, often unconsciously. While early theorizing focused on racial microaggressions, they can be expressed toward any marginalized group member and are typically linked to racism, sexism, genderism, heterosexism, classism, and ableism. The study of microaggressions has expanded further to include other forms of oppression and accompanying microaggressions such as trans, genderqueer, religious, and intersectional microaggressions.

Microaggressions in Everyday Life (2020).
By Derald Wing Sue & Lisa Spanierman, 2nd Edition.
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.