Subtle Acts of Exclusion
by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran, 2020
- instead of using the term “microaggressions” you can use the term Subtle Acts of Exclusion
- much like bias, we will all say and do things that might be considered SAE
- subject (the person excluded), initiator (the person who says or does the SAE), observer (if they say something, they’re an ally; if they don’t they’re a bystander)
- overall, this book is promoting the authors’ services for addressing SAE and bias in the workplace. it’s a short read and the take-aways are easy to understand. they’ll also be offering training sessions in 2023, might be worth attending
Guidelines For Speaking Up As The SAE Subject Or Observer:
- Pause the action.
- Assume good intent.
- Explain why the action was paused.
- Have patience but expect progress.
Guidelines For Responding As The SAE Initiator:
- Acknowledge the feedback with gratitude.
- Replace defensiveness with curiosity and empathy.
- Follow through and follow up.
Think before you speak. Ask yourself:
- Is what I am about to say/ask based on stereotypes or assumptions about a marginalized group?
- Is what I am about to say/ask unnecessarily intrusive?
- Am I overstepping?
- Is what I am about to say based in kindness and generosity or the opposite?
- Do I have the authority/right to tell/ask this person to comply with my request?
- Is this a good use of my authority/privilege?
- Would I say the same thing to a person of a different gender/color/race, etc.?
- Is this going to make the person feel inadequate or as if they don’t belong?
- Does this question their normalcy or make them feel like a threat or a curiosity?
- Will this make someone feel invisible, as if they are not an individual?
SAE Accountability in the workplace:
- Expect SAE to happen
- Communicate the norm
- practice speaking up
What was her reasoning for making this change? ie, what is downside of using the term “microagression”?
That is useful to explain: “micro” minimizes the impact it might have on the subject and “aggression” can make the initiator defensive when someone calls it out.
I am familiar with Derald Wing Sue’s book, and always use the term “microagressions”, but I can see their point. I wonder if the research community will take up this new term.
One of the authors of the book quoted in this article. The closing paragraph (a quote from them) sums it up nicely:
“When we learn better, we do better,” says Jana. “The term ‘microaggression’ is an insult to everyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of it, and it’s a copout for the people who continue to initiate them.” Whatever term we land on — microaggression, subtle act of exclusion, racial abuse, or exclusionary behavior — Jana reminds us that “it needs to be something that doesn’t let people off the hook so easily and doesn’t minimize the harm that it causes to actual people.”
It’s interesting to hear from a person of color who feels that the term “microaggression” doesn’t adequately capture the impact these actions have on them; they take issue with the “micro” part of it. Personally I take issue with the “aggression” part, which I feel implies a level of hostility or negative intent that is often not present, and having an action labeled this way often does little to help the transgressor actually recognize and change their behavior. The term as a whole is simply not very intrinsically descriptive or accurate to many instances of what are called “microaggressions” in my view, by which I mean “aggression” has a specific meaning that these actions often do not readily conform to:
hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.
In my view someone commenting on another person’s hair style or skin color, and many other actions labeled “microaggression”, is not inherently “aggressive” and labeling it so is not helpful for anyone. It is quite descriptive to call it an “act of exclusion” however! So it’s interesting that I as a white, cis, hetero man (i.e. currently benefitting from the higher degrees of privilege in this culture) and a woman of color both object to the same term for different reasons, and that the same alternative term is more agreeable to both of us, again for (I think) somewhat different reasons. That strikes me as the mark of a more inclusive and accurate term if it can represent both these differing experiences and be understood from both perspectives to have similar and valuable meaning. Of course this is a small sample size, so it’d be interesting to see what others (in the broader cultural conversation) think of the term.
Anyway, glad to become aware of SAE! Even if it’s just as another way of thinking about these actions and their impacts, context, consequences, etc. it’s a useful lens.