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How to deal with microaggressions in your nonprofit workplace

24 February 2016

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1
 February 24, 2016
 1
microaggressions

Ok, before we get to the reader question, what are microaggressions?

“Psychologist and Columbia University professor Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “…send[ing] denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership,” and she describes microaggressions as generally happening below the awareness of well-intentioned members of the dominant culture. Microaggressions are considered to be different from deliberate acts of racism (such as the use of slurs or epithets), because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are completely unaware they are causing harm.”

“Sue describes microaggressions as including statements that repeat or affirm stereotypes about the minority group or subtly demean it, that position the dominant culture as normal and the minority one as aberrant or pathological, that express disapproval of or discomfort with the minority group, that assume all minority group members are the same, that minimize the existence of discrimination against the minority group, seek to deny the perpetrator’s own bias, or minimize real conflict between the minority group and the dominant culture.”

Recently, I received an email asking this question.

“As a woman of color in my early 30s, I often am a different generation than the “old guard” of fundraisers in their 60s or 70s in my area. Many of these are women who got into fundraising as volunteers while their husbands worked. Colleagues of my age often comment on a generational gap that’s more evident in fundraising than other aspects of nonprofits (EDs, program staff, support staff).

I often hear microaggressions about being so young I could be their child or am expected to pony up registration fees for “can’t miss” networking events and other organization’s fundraisers, when the reality is I’m saddled with many student loans and on a tight budget.

I would LOVE a conversation about this because I think its completely lacking in fundraising. We acknowledge that many fundraisers are wealthy, white, and older, but I haven’t seen conversation on how that plays out.”

So, this is a hard question.

I asked Hamlin Grange, co-founder of Diversipro, what he would do in this situation. He said,

“I would say responding to these microagressions in a more developmental way is always more productive than making the person feel terrible. Sometimes these comments and behaviours are unintentional. Of course many times they are deliberate attempts to put people from the nondominant culture in “their place” and should be tackled head-on.”

He continues,

“In fundraising it’s good to point out to “older” colleagues that the younger generation is vital to the sector because they bring new and fresh perspectives. Sometimes it helps to turn the incident back onto the person by asking them specifically what they meant by the remark. It forces the person to think about what they said and could become a teachable moment for both parties.”

What you’re dealing with is messed up, and I’m sorry these older people can’t seem to relate to where you’re coming from. Sometimes we have to let people know, verbally, that they’re stepping across a line, and that they need to step back.

I’ve had this in a workplace where people make comments about my age. And worse! One board member asked me if I was going to get pregnant (IN MY JOB INTERVIEW!). I had no idea that this was an illegal question.

You might want to interrupt, and say one of these phrases,

  • “Hold on. I know you probably don’t mean any harm by your comment, but I am bothered.
  • “May I offer a suggestion? How would YOU like it if I said, “You’re old enough to be my grandmother?”
  • “Wait a minute. How would you like it if I constantly drew attention to how OLD you are?”
  • “Could you explain to me what you meant by that?”
  • “How would you like it if I started talking about your wrinkles and white hair?”
  • “Can I give you some feedback? How would you like it if I said, “AW, you look just like my grandma! Want to make me some cookies?”

 

Maybe that will give people some idea of why they should not say these things to you.

About people assuming you can go to all of these networking events- you might want to think about being honest with them, and saying one of these phrases,

  • “You know, I’d love to go to that, but I’m on a budget right now.” or
  • “Maybe when my student loans are paid off, I can afford to splurge on that.” or
  • “You know, I’d like to go to that event, do you think that would be covered in our professional development budget?”

 

Again, they’re never going to know they’re out of line until they’re confronted. One person who spoke at our career conference last year, Kishshana Palmer, said,

“If people have been getting away with nonsense for a long time, you are probably not going to change them.”

Still, it’s worth a try. And if interrupting doesn’t stop the comments, I would definitely look for a new job, where they appreciate you more.

If you feel like they might not listen to you because you’re younger or a woman of color, you might want to ask a white ally to stand there and be with you while you practice interrupting their microaggressions, or ask them to bring it up with these older women privately, as an ally.

Here’s what one woman named LaTora did. Kind of mean, but funny.

Her co-worker refused to call her by her real name, (because those “hood” names all sound the same anyway) (yes he really said that) so she called him by the whitest white boy names she could think of. Soon everyone in the office was doing it.  And this kept up for months until he got the point.

Here’s a video below that I thought made a really good point about microaggressions, which is- let’s make white people uncomfortable. If you don’t have time to listen to the video, she says let’s address what’s going on, in the moment. Do YOU have any advice about how to deal with comments like this?

One response on “Are you dealing with casual racism at your nonprofit?

  1. Hi,
    Great video. And I would have addressed you by your name, but I don’t see it here (or maybe I missed it).

    I was curious where you got that definition of microaggressions. I’ve read several, but I thought this one you shared was particularly thorough and covered all the bases. I am a white female musician/songwriter, and one of the things I’ve been doing with my music is a school program called Stand Up! Speak Out! on Bias, Bullying, and Bystanders. Now I’m working on a presentation for a corporate audience, and one of the things I want to talk about is microaggressions, so I’m looking for everything I can find on this subject. So I’d like to use your definition and credit the source (you and/or anyone else whose definition it was.). I’m also reading a lot about implicit bias, and have taken the IAT (Implicit Association Test), so I’m also learning about unconscious bias– my own included.

    I agree with everything you said. But your point that “white people don’t move (aside for people of color)” struck me — because I can safely report that there is at least one white woman who does: I move aside, and give up my seat on a train, when appropriate– particularly to women or parents with young children or elderly people, just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s pretty sad that this not-moving-aside behavior is something you have observed, across the board, in “all” white people. I don’t doubt for a minute that this has been your experience. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs…

    If you have a minute and can send that definition, or let me know the source, I would appreciate it.
    Thanks, and keep up the great work.