Microinsults are the more tricky microaggressions to identify, and also the most common form of microaggression identified by Dr. Deral Wing Sue. They are subtle acts which convey contempt and disrespect for someone. They are subtle, spur-of-the-moment, back-handed, and it can be hard to tell if the perpetrator is even aware what they're doing is insulting.[1]

Examples of microinsults:

  • When Joe Biden "complimented" President Barack Obama by calling him the "first black person articulate enough to be a front-runner for president." [3]
  • When cisgender television personality Katie Couric asked transgender actress Laverne Cox and transgender model Carmen Carrera about their genitals on national television.[4]
  • When an able-bodied person speaks to a person in a wheelchair as if they are a small child.
  • When a straight person calls something "gay" to mean stupid.
  • When a neurotypical person says they did something "like a maniac."
  • When a man calls a woman "sweetie" or "baby" in a professional context.
  • A white person following a black person around a store
  • A cisgender person taking a picture of a transgender person in public without their consent.

Microinsults can be incredibly frustrating. You feel bad about something, but sometimes can't even place your finger on why. These are the ones that most resemble paper cuts. They really do look so minor, but they happen so often that it wears you down, until there are significant impacts on your mental and physical health.[5-13]

For microinsults, the main coping skills I suggest are seeking validation, taking care of yourself, and remembering your goals.

Also see: Microassaults, and Microinvalidations

[1]Derald Wing Sue. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

[2]Hernández, P., Carranza, M., & Almeida, R. (2010). Mental health professionals’ adaptive responses to racial microaggressions: An exploratory study. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41(3), 202–209. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0018445

[3] Biden’s description of Obama draws scrutiny - CNN.com. (2007, February 9). CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/01/31/biden.obama/

[4] Katie McDonough. (2014, January 7). Laverne Cox Artfully Shuts Down Kate Couric’s Invasive Questions About Transgender People. Salon.com. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2014/01/07/laverne_cox_artfully_shuts_down_katie_courics_invasive_questions_about_transgender_people/

[5] Burn, S., Kadlec, K., & Rexer, R. (2005). Effects of Subtle Heterosexism on Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals. Journal of Homosexuality, 49(2), 23–38. http://doi.org/10.1300/J082v49n02_02

[6] Donovan, R. A., Galban, D. J., Grace, R. K., Bennett, J. K., & Felicié, S. Z. (2013). Impact of Racial Macro- and Microaggressions in Black Women’s Lives A Preliminary Analysis. Journal of Black Psychology, 39(2), 185–196. http://doi.org/10.1177/0095798412443259

[7] Gómez, J. M. (2015). Microaggressions and the Enduring Mental Health Disparity Black Americans at Risk for Institutional Betrayal. Journal of Black Psychology, 41(2), 121–143. http://doi.org/10.1177/0095798413514608

[8] Huebner, D. M., & Davis, M. C. (2007). Perceived antigay discrimination and physical health outcomes. Health Psychology, 26(5), 627–634. http://doi.org/10.1037/0278-6133.26.5.627

[9] Mays, V. M., & Cochran, S. D. (2001). Mental Health Correlates of Perceived Discrimination Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 91(11), 1869–1876.

[10] Meyer, I. H. (1995). Minority Stress and Mental Health in Gay Men. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 36(1), 38–56. http://doi.org/10.2307/2137286

[11] Nadal, K. L., Davidoff, K. C., Davis, L. S., & Wong, Y. (2014). Emotional, behavioral, and cognitive reactions to microaggressions: Transgender perspectives. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(1), 72–81. http://doi.org/10.1037/sgd0000011

[12] Nadal, K. L., Wong, Y., Griffin, K. E., Davidoff, K., & Sriken, J. (2014). The Adverse Impact of Racial Microaggressions on College Students’ Self-Esteem. Journal of College Student Development, 55(5), 461–474. http://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2014.0051

[13] Torres, L., & Taknint, J. T. (2015). Ethnic microaggressions, traumatic stress symptoms, and Latino depression: A moderated mediational model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3), 393–401. http://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000077