BIPOC Voices, Career Advice, Key Topics, Tips & Techniques

How to handle microaggressions in the workplace

Here are 4 ways to handle it.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Aug 10, 2020

Corporate America has started to take their blind fold off when it comes to racism. Big companies like Reddit, Apple, Amazon, Vogue and a slew of other megabrands have all had former employees speak poorly on their experiences working in hate-filled cultures. 


It’s allowed these brands to look inward and get to the root of where the hate and problems started. Some have chosen to let go of senior leaders. Some have instilled new diversity programs. Others have looked to employees of color to share recommendations on how they’d like to see the company proceed. 


Many friends and professionals of color that I’ve spoken to have guarded optimism on the future of corporate America. We are glad the conversations are finally taking place but what will come of it? For many of us, it means having hard conversations with willing and unwilling coworkers. We fear it will create more room for microaggressions.


Microaggressions – or incidents when someone accidentally or purposely utters an offensive statement or asks an insensitive question – are common in corporate America where the majority of employees are white or white-passing. These comments are hostile and derogatory and unfortunately a common theme in everyday life as a Black person. The deliverer often doesn’t mean harm and has no idea it has such an affect. But overtime, these slights and stabs create harm on our mental health and relationship with that person. 


Whether it’s work, school, or casual social gatherings – microaggressions can happen in any environment. It’s better to be over prepared for them than to feel slighted and hopeless if it does happen. To help you out, here are a couple ways to handle microaggressions in the workplace. 


Let it go.

This is hard. Like really hard. When someone takes a jab at you, especially if they know what they’re doing, it’s way too easy to come back with the same fighting spirit. Use your own judgement of course, but it might be beneficial to just let it go. Sometimes confronting the comment is so emotionally taxing.


Respond ASAP. 

Other times, the comment cuts so deep that it’s too difficult to ignore. You could use it as a teaching moment and explain the details as why it’s inappropriate while it’s fresh in your mind. Keep in mind, your opponent could get defensive and potentially lead to a heated argument.



You know the phrase: pick your battles? That could be a very beneficial mantra when it comes to microaggressions. Consider the issue and relationship. Think about your feelings and how you want to be perceived. Often microaggressions can be subtle and make us doubt the legitimacy of our reactions. But, feel how you want to feel. If it’s anger, disappointment, confusion, exhaustion, that is all valid. And you should have the right to speak on that. 



Make them clarify their statement. Check them. Say, “What do you mean by that”, or “I don’t understand what you just said, can you explain.” Typically, they will be so shocked that you asked and won’t know how to respond. You could then launch into why their words were inappropriate and help educate them.


Our weekly dear POC column is here to help you.