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Where are you really from? Racial microaggressions and how to be an ally or active bystander

02 October 2023
Volume 31 · Issue 10


Racial microaggressions are often subtle and frequent occurences in the lives of people from marginalised racial groups. There is a broad lack of acknowledgement that they exist and when perpetrators are confronted, victims are often met with defensiveness or dismissal. However, the impacts on the physical and mental health of the victims make it essential that clinicians understand not only the concept of racial microaggressions but also how they may be challenged and addressed. There is no single way to address microaggressions, but the authors propose some ways to identify and tackle them in the medical setting and beyond. It is hoped that this will encourage allyship and empower those who are bystanders to become more actively involved.

Where are you from? At first glance, this question seems innocuous, emanating from the curiosity of a patient or colleague. However, when the answer to this question is followed by ‘where are you really from?’ or a variation on that query, it can act as a rejection of a person's sense of self-identity. Regardless of intent, this is a microaggression, specifically a racial one. The term ‘racial microaggression’ was first coined by Chester Pierce in 1970 and reintroduced by Derald Sue Wing in 2007 (Sue et al, 2007). Racial microaggressions can be thought of as frequent, subtle and often unintentional insults towards a marginalised racial group (Williams et al, 2021). The impact of racial microaggressions cannot be overstated and the cumulative effects have been shown to lead to poorer physical and mental health outcomes for those on the receiving end (Wong et al, 2014; Spanierman et al, 2021). This article explores the types of racial microaggressions that may be encountered in the workplace, considers how these could be addressed and empowers people to become allies or active bystanders.

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