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Coping with Microaggressions and the Angry Black Woman Stereotype

Despite the claims that we live in a post-racial society, racism continues to plague the lives of Black people around the world. As October is recognised as Black History Month in the UK, it’s only fitting to highlight a common issue many black women face: microaggressions.

While institutionalised racism is a major issue, so is racism on an individual level. Microaggressions are one of the most common forms of individual-level racism. Racial microaggressions are the everyday subtle (often unintentional) insults directed toward Black people. These insults often target areas like stereotypes, cultural norms, intelligence, and criminality. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the impact of microaggression on Black women and detail some helpful strategies for coping with this issue.

The Angry Black Woman Stereotype

The intersectionality of being identified as both Black and a woman makes it difficult to move through life without facing sexual discrimination and racial oppression. Black women are afraid to speak up against microaggressions to avoid being perceived as an “angry Black woman.”  

The perpetuation of the angry Black woman stereotype silences Black women when confronted with microaggressions. This harmful stereotype not only oversimplifies the diverse range of emotions experienced by Black women but also dismisses their valid concerns. When Black women express frustration or discontent in response to microaggressions, they may be unfairly labeled as "angry" instead of being heard.

Although microaggressions are defined as unintentional actions, if you feel like someone’s being racist toward you, they’re being racist, regardless of their intention. And, despite the “micro” in the term microaggression, the harmful effects are still dangerous and hurtful.

Microaggressions can significantly impact Black women's mental and emotional well-being. They can make them feel undervalued and disrespected personally and professionally. Over time, constantly experiencing microaggressions can lead to frustration, anger, and exhaustion. 


How to Respond to Microaggressions

The ideal resolution to microaggressions would be to increase awareness. However, it will be impossible to completely prevent microaggressions in our current society.

So, how do you respond? There are three main ways to react to microaggressions:

Respond Immediately

Microaggressions often stem from people’s inability to realise their privilege. When faced with a microaggression, ask them a direct question like, “What did you mean by that?” This will allow the person to check themselves and clarify their intent. You should use this opportunity to explain the impact of their words or actions.

Respond Later

Pull the individual aside and explain why the microaggression was offensive. Ensure this follow-up conversation happens soon enough after the microaggression occurs to avoid it being minimised or seen as resentment over something insignificant.

Let it Go

For years, remaining silent has been the most common response to microaggressions. While it might seem like you’re contributing to a culture of silence, the truth is not everyone will allow you to have open and genuine conversations about these issues. When faced with a microaggression, ask yourself if this situation is worth your peace. Sometimes, prioritising your mental health is more important.

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