On April 19, 2016, students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered at Starr King School for the Ministry and online to hear Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber present her recent work, co-authored with Cody Sanders, Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church (available online). The event was part of Starr King’s 10 Years of MASC anniversary celebrations, in recognition of its pioneering degree program and sacred social change.
Despite the common notion that we have largely overcome racism, sexism, and heterosexism, Yarber began, discrimination continues to thrive in our communities in less blatant forms. The term microaggression, coined by Harvard Psychiatrist Chester Pierce in 1970, refers to a “comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group” (Merriam-Webster). As a queer and mixed-race pastor, Yarber described feeling consistently excluded by well-intentioned people.
Microaggressions can be difficult to address because they happen so subtly and quickly, Yarber explained. Those who are offended are often told to “toughen up,” but these consistent indirect attacks on one’s identity have been shown to take a toll as stress accumulates. According to Yarber, both qualitative and quantitative research suggest that microaggressions have the potential to cause greater trauma than overt forms of discrimination. She, like many people, felt their impact but struggled to find the language to talk about it.
So what is the best way to address microaggressions as they are happening? “It is important to focus on calling people in, not out,” Yarber said. Learning about microaggressions “facilitates the healing process and enables us to be better allies.” Our guest concluded by noting that the study of microaggressions is not complete. “We need to consider who has been left out and how we can be more inclusive.”
To view more of Starr King’s MASC anniversary events, click here.