Black Mental Health: Understanding and Confronting Microagressions in the Workplace By Dr. Shaniqua Lesesne, LISW-CP Picture By Upsplash

By | Apr 9, 2024

We all, at some point in our professional careers, have encountered acts of microaggression
directed toward us. In these moments we must make the decision of, "Do I confront this and
address it head on?", or "Do I keep silent as to not appear as the aggressive party?" For some
people this decision is a no-brainer, for others it can be more challenging; especially when these
types of events occur in the workplace.
The workplace is supposed to be a space where diversity and inclusion flourish, where
individuals from various backgrounds come together to collaborate and create. However, for
Black people and people of color, the reality can be quite different. Microaggressions, those
subtle and often unintentional slights and biases, permeate many workplaces, creating a hostile
environment that negatively impacts both the individuals experiencing them and the
organizations themselves. Although microaggression can occur unintentionally, it is important to
note that this behavior can also occur consciously with malicious intent.
When it comes to Black individuals and people of color in the workplace, these
microaggressions can take several forms:
● Racial Stereotyping: This involves making assumptions or generalizations based on
race. For example, assuming that a Black colleague must be good at sports or excel in
certain tasks simply because of their skin color.
● Colorblindness: Some individuals may claim not to "see" race and suggest that we
should all be treated the same. While this may seem well-intentioned, it often dismisses
the unique experiences and challenges faced by people of different races.
● Microinsults: These are subtle comments or actions that convey disrespect or derogatory
messages. For example, questioning the qualifications of a Black colleague who holds a
leadership position.
● Microinvalidations: These are dismissive comments or behaviors that undermine the
experiences and feelings of Black individuals and people of color. An example is telling a
Black colleague that they are "overreacting" to a situation related to racism.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you based on your personal experiences? Or have
you witnessed this type of behavior targeted towards your fellow colleagues?
Microaggressions, despite their subtlety, have far-reaching consequences on Black employees
and employees of color. These effects can be both personal and professional, creating a hostile
work environment that hampers productivity and emotional well-being, impacting these
employees personally and professionally.

● Personally: Microaggressions can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and even depression
among employees of color. These constant reminders of their racial difference can wear
down an individual's mental and emotional well-being.
● Professionally: Feeling undervalued, disrespected, or unheard in the workplace can lead
to decreased job satisfaction. When an employee does not feel valued, their motivation
to excel at work diminishes.
So, then, the question is presented – How does one handle workplace microaggressions and
their negative effects? Here are a few strategies that can help:
● Self-Care: Always prioritize the care of your emotional and mental well-being. You may
also need to seek support from friends, family, or professional counselors to help cope
with the emotional toll of microaggressions.
● Document Incidents: Maintain a detailed record of each microaggressive incident you
experience. This documentation will be beneficial if you decide to escalate the situation
within your organization. As the saying goes, “if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.”
● Choose Your Battles: Not every microaggression warrants immediate confrontation. Use
your judgment to decide when to address the issue, considering factors like the
frequency and severity of the behavior.
● Confront Calmly: When you decide to address a microaggression, do so calmly and
professionally. Use "I" statements to express how the behavior made you feel and
request respectful dialogue. If you feel that this conversation cannot occur amicably, you
may need to have a supervisor, or other appropriate personnel, sit in as a witness to the
discussion.
● Seek Allies: Find like-minded colleagues who can support you in confronting
microaggressions. This may include colleagues who have either witnessed or
experienced incidents of microaggressions within the organization. Strength often comes
in numbers, so don’t feel like you must tackle this issue alone.
Microaggressions in the workplace are harmful, insidious, and detrimental to both Black
employees and the organizations they work for. Recognizing and addressing these subtle forms
of discrimination can be challenging, but it is also essential for fostering a diverse, inclusive, and
equitable work environment. Black employees and people of color should be empowered to
stand up against microaggressions professionally, while organizations must take proactive steps
to eliminate them and promote a culture of respect and impartiality. Only then can workplaces
truly reflect the diverse societies we live in and harness the full potential of all the employees
equally.

About The Author

Renewed Image Youth & Family Services, LLC is owned by Dr. Shaniqua Lesesne, a Licensed
Independent Social Worker – Clinical Practice (LISW-CP), Certified Mindset Life Coach, and
Youth Mentor/Director of R.E.N.E.W Mentoring Program for young girls. Shaniqua has worked

in the mental health and wellness field for over ten years and has dedicated her life to helping
others navigate their specific life challenges by dismantling negative thought patterns, which
often lead to negative emotional & behavioral cycles.
Shaniqua specializes in working with individuals and groups (virtually or face-to-face) who are
dealing with depression, anxiety, relationship issues, trauma, and various life transitions.
Through her unique approach to therapy, coaching, and youth mentoring, Shaniqua empowers
her clients to change the way they view themselves, their circumstances, and their life.

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