‘Why do you have an accent?’ Kids’ questions might be innocent, but they can hurt.

Microaggressions can have long-lasting effects. Here’s how to prevent them.

PUBLISHED

When Hannah Maree Eun Pinski was nine years old, she was sharing middle names with friends in the school cafeteria. One of her white classmates “joked” that her Korean middle name was weird, then pulled at the corners of her eyes, and said, “I guess it makes sense since you have ugly eyes.” Everyone at the table laughed.

Pinksi, who was the only person of color at the table, says her classmate likely didn’t intend to be hurtful, only to make a joke. But over a decade later, it remains a vivid memory.

“That was the first time I remember someone saying something like that to me, and it really hit home,” she says. “I thought, well, if everyone agreed with her, then it must be true. I still don't feel confident about how I look.”

Microaggressions are often subtle, everyday exchanges that convey bias toward people based on race, gender identity, religion, age, ability, class, or membership to another group. And childhood microaggressions can have lifelong effects, says psychologist Kevin Nadal, author of several books on microaggressions.

“Research over the past 10 years has demonstrated microaggressions are related to a lot of different health and physical outcomes, including depression and anxiety, trauma, physical health issues, sleep issues, alcohol use, and body image issues,” he says.

Microaggressions are sometimes so subtle that even adults don’t always realize they’re using them. So children, who are naturally curious, may not understand what a microaggression is or how their actions affect others. For...

Read the rest of this article on NatGeo.com
close

You are going to nationalgeographic.com/tv and different terms of use and privacy policy will apply.

CONTINUE

Follow Us

twitter

Subscribe for full access to read stories from National Geographic.