Everyday Racism and Microaggressions
Both microaggression and everyday racism are terms for a type of that occurs in daily life, without the sender necessarily having negative intentions.
are an overarching concept that can encompass othering based on skin color, gender, disability, or other factors. However, originally, the term was used to describe a form of everyday racism: insults, rejection, and othering based on skin color.
The term everyday racism was developed by Philomena Essed in the 1980s (Essed 1990). For her doctoral thesis, she interviewed Surinamese women in the Netherlands and Black women in California, comparing their experiences with racism. Her focus was on experienced racism, not racism as an ideology. She is concerned with how racism unfolds in everyday life, not primarily with extreme manifestations such as racist violence. Racism, for her, is something structural, something that characterizes society as a whole. But at the same time, it cannot be separated from everyday events. Everyday racism encompasses all the small events, experiences, and statements that confirm the position of Black individuals as "the others" and as inferior in society. It is these actions that connect racism at the structural level to the experiences of individuals.
“Everyday racism is all the small events, experiences, and statements that confirm the position of Black individuals as 'the others' and as inferior in society.
covers a range of different but everyday situations. It can be the black teacher mistaken for a janitor, black individuals not being allowed into a venue, or comments to individuals with brown skin about how well they speak Norwegian. Anything that in some way others individuals with dark skin is included in the concept of everyday racism.
The term microaggression is closely related to everyday racism but is now used not only in connection with racism but also with othering of other groups. Microaggression refers to expressions and actions that point out a person's difference, without necessarily meaning it that way (HL-senteret, 2019).
As with everyday racism, microaggression is not about the sender's intention. The person who does or says something that can be perceived as microaggression is not aggressive. The term "aggressive" refers to how the action or event can be perceived.
"The person who does or says something that can be perceived as microaggression is not aggressive. The term 'aggressive' refers to how the action or event can be perceived."
It is also not the case that microaggression necessarily has to hurt the person affected. It depends on personal and contextual factors, especially related to how often a person encounters this form of othering. If a teacher is mistaken for janitorial staff once, it may not mean much. But if it happens repeatedly, or if it is one of many signals of difference experienced in a day, it becomes different. Then, the small, everyday jabs contribute to confirming a structure that keeps some people down.
Essed, P. (1990) Everyday Racism: Reports from Women of Two Cultures. Alameda: Hunter House.
HL-senteret (2019): 16 år med Benjaminprisen. Forebyggende arbeid mot rasisme og diskriminering i skolen. Oslo: HL-senteret.