Wait, was that racist? ! A new encyclopedia can help you avoid saying s
As one of the only people of color in a former workplace, I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable when a white boss spoke to me in a singsong Indian accent or when a colleague spoke with casualness of the darkness of my skin. These people seemed more ignorant than overtly racist, and I had no idea how to make them see how offensive they were.
Comments like this are all too common for people in marginalized communities. They are known as microaggressions, defined as subtle, sometimes unintentional, hostile comments or actions towards an individual or group. Microaggressions are quite common in the workplace, and the constant barrage has a profound effect, causing people to experience chronic and severe distress and exhaustion.
Now there’s a new tool to help fight microaggressions. Micropedia is an encyclopedic website that showcases everyday microaggressions faced by people from marginalized groups. At a time when many fear being “cancelled” for saying something offensive, the Micropedia aims to be a non-judgmental way for people to learn what might make someone else uncomfortable. .
Stephanie Yung, head of design at creative agency Zulu Alpha Kilo, led the design and creation of Micropedia. She and many of her team members have experienced microaggressions in their lifetime, but have not found a single, reliable resource to deal with it. “You might find an academic paper on the impact of microaggressions, or a media article on a particular offensive comment,” she says. “But we wanted to create a place where people could come and learn about the range and magnitude of microaggressions.”
Yung’s team came up with the idea for Micropedia, a collection of microaggressions sorted by things like race, gender, and disability. The sleek and streamlined platform makes it easy to view a variety of offensive comments across a range of areas; dig deeper, and the site explains why each comment is harmful, including real-life examples and links to a wealth of outside reporting.
Yung points out that there is a difference between microaggressions and overt racism. “Microaggressions tend to stem from ignorance rather than a desire to hurt,” she says. “And even members of marginalized groups themselves may not realize that they are saying something offensive to someone from another marginalized group. I know that looking back after an interaction, I wanted to see if something I inadvertently said crossed a line.
Yung thinks the Micropedia could be used by at least three groups. First, people who received an uncomfortable comment and would like confirmation that it was indeed offensive. “The problem with microaggressions is that they’re subtle, and you often wonder if you really experienced a harmful microaggression or are just imagining it,” she says. “It validates your own experience and gives you something you can show a friend or family member why what they said was offensive.”
Micropedia will also be useful for people who are concerned about unintentionally saying offensive things and want to correct their own behavior. Additionally, Yung sees the Micropedia as a tool that can be used by companies and academic institutions in their diversity trainings. “This tool is for people who want to learn and change their behavior,” says Yung. “It won’t change the mind of someone who is openly racist or deliberately trying to hurt people with their words or actions.”
The Zulu Alpha Kilo team developed the Micropedia in collaboration with other organizations focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, such as the Black Business and Professional Association and the Diversity Institute.
To launch the site, they worked with these groups to identify common microaggressions, which affect a range of marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community (“Please don’t hit me”), people of color (“Wow, you’re so articulate”), and older people (“You’re such a grandma”). As users begin to add to the site by sharing the microaggressions they have undergone, each will be checked to ensure that it has not already been covered by another entry. If not, the DEI team and experts will develop a new entry that will explain why this micro -aggression is harmful and will provide some advice on how to react.
Ultimately, Yung hopes that Micropedia will help eradicate the kind of microaggressions people experience throughout their day. And ultimately, the project was born out of the belief that many people don’t want to offend and would change their behavior if given the knowledge and the opportunity. “Microaggressions can be difficult to address; very often people don’t even know they’re doing it,” says Yung. “We wanted to create a non-judgmental platform where people can learn about the things they said or did that caused harm, and correct their behavior.”