Microaggressions and making space

MetaFilter is a global community, with members from different cultural and social groups all over the world. It's our goal to make this an inclusive and welcoming place. And while meaning well and avoiding intentionally discriminatory or exclusionary behavior is an important starting point for that, it's often not enough to insure a social space is actually welcoming and inclusive.

In part that's because the social contexts that members of a majority or culturally dominant group experience tend to minimize the visibility of issues that affect the folks outside that group. The things that don't negatively affect you end up not being on your radar in the first place, and so you don't recognize the very real harm being done. So if you are a member of one or more majority/dominant groups, this is a resource for working to improve that situation.

Why members of dominant groups should take extra care.

People from culturally dominant or majority groups can easily fail to see how much effort people from marginalized groups have to invest, just to reach what might seem (to them) like the floor/default comfort level in a social space. For example, it's easy for an American to overlook how much work non-Americans are often putting in to work around American-centric assumptions, just to participate here; white people may not be thinking about the way whiteness as an assumed default perspective creates extra stress or a sense of exclusion for people of color.

For this reason, to really make a space welcoming to everybody, it's important for community members from dominant groups — which in the case of MetaFilter tends to mean Americans, white people, cisgender people, heterosexual people, native English speakers, people who don't have significant disabilities or illnesses, etc. — to make extra effort beyond what feels like the default level, to consciously learn about and avoid behaviors that shut people out.

That means more than just avoiding slurs or similar obviously-unacceptable things. It means making an active effort to be aware of and avoid things like casually exclusionary language, microaggressions, harmful generalizations or assumptions, treating culturally-specific details as global defaults, and so on.

And if someone points out something you've said that's unintentionally racist, US-centric, ableist, etc., take that information on board, in a spirit of learning and trying to be considerate of fellow community members. It's normal to feel uncomfortable when told you've said something hurtful or thoughtless, but we're all likely to make that sort of mistake sometimes. Making the effort to step back and sit with that discomfort and learn from it makes us better community members in the long run.

More about Microaggressions

Microaggressions are seemingly-small slights, which happen a lot to people in a marginalized group, and which add up over time into much bigger cumulative harms.

If it's something you're not used to experiencing, they may seem like no big deal: Sure, it's a little annoying that someone did that or said this, one time, but it's just a blip, right? But if it happens to you again and again, daily and throughout your life, these small things add up to a constant reminder of being perceived as different, or distrusted, or inconvenient, or unwelcome. That's why they're called microaggressions, not minor annoyances: Each thing might seem small by itself, but the sum of them over a lifetime has great weight, and each new instance can be a painful reminder to the person on the receiving end that this keeps being done to you, over and over, by people unaware of or unconcerned with your pain. Notice that it doesn't matter whether someone intends to be hurtful by doing one of these things; it still hurts, and that's what counts.

Part of treating other folks well is working to be aware of these things and making the extra effort to avoid contributing to that cumulative harm.

Here are some common microaggressions to be aware of, learn more about, and avoid: