Implicit Bias and Microaggressions

May 3, 2017
By Krithika Pennathur

Perception and Deception.

These are the words I would use to describe the ways in which we, as a society, think about identity. Specifically, the ways in which we think about other identities. It is said that the human brain tends to naturally categorize and label, because we are trying to make sense of the world in our heads. As a culture, we are taught to notice the differences more quickly than the similarities between one another. And that creates a culture where pervasive judgment can exist.

It’s hard to fully understand someone else’s experiences. Especially if you are indoctrinated by the idea that there is a clear difference between the both of you. Try NOT even attempting to do this and then making comments about the other because they are different than you. You immediately start to implement a bias upon a particular person, maybe even a particular race, gender, and sexual orientation.

We all start out with implicit biases. And this is greatly due to the way the world is presented to us. For example, if one grew up in a world where homophobia was persuasive, you may tend to categorize the lgbtq+ community as an other and think negatively against them. If people are flooded with media images that portray a certain kind of ethnicity in a stereotypical way, they may start to subconsciously believe that stereotype.

Yes, we all start out with implicit biases. But it is up to us to inherently correct them. It is important for us to realize that not all black males are criminals, even though media suggests otherwise. It is important to realize that not all Latinx people have strong, thick accents and are only cleaning ladies. It is important to realize that not all Asians are scrawny nerds. It is important to reject these media images and to check ourselves.

Why is this important? Because implicit biases lead to the formation of microaggressions.

The exact definition of a microaggression is a statement, action, or incident that is purposely directed towards a particular minority identity. In other words, a microaggression is an indirect, subtle form of discrimination. An example of an obvious microaggression is asking a woman, in a predominantly male office, if she is here to be a cleaning lady, or asking an Indian woman if she speaks “Indian” and wears “the dot” on her head. But microaggressions can also come in the form of asking the only Indian person in a room about yoga, asking a Muslim person about ISIS, or asking a black person whether they know Tamir Rice (or any other black victims of police brutality). With microaggressions, not only are you solely equating a particular person with their racial and gender identity, you are reducing them to it. You are making that person a “resident information giver” on particular topics relating to their identities.

Implicit bias and microaggressions have always been important, but I feel that they are even more important now in this day and age. Discrimination is switching to more subtle forms, as opposed to expressing outward hatred, especially in professional settings. It is important to be aware of microaggressions, but also the implicit biases that cause them.

Unfortunately, there is not one particular answer that will fix this. However, introspective reasoning, starting a conversation with ourselves and critically analyzing our surroundings is an impactful start.


Krithika Pennathur is a sophomore English Writing (nonfiction track) and History major pursuing minors in Chemistry and Statistics and certificates in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies & Public and Professional Writing at the University of Pittsburgh.


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