What To Do When Someone Calls Out Your Unintentional Microaggressions, Because Being A Good Ally Means Learning From Your Mistakes
While we talk a lot about the need to call out the oppressive things people unintentionally say and do, we don't always talk about what to do when you're called out for them yourself. And we should, because the responsibility for making these conversations productive shouldn't fall (as responsibilities unfortunately tend to fall) on the shoulders of oppressed groups. While calling someone out is necessary, it can still be uncomfortable for both parties, and it takes a lot of thoughtfulness to handle these situations properly. Part of being a good ally is responding respectfully and compassionately and taking people's feedback to heart — so here's how to do your part to help make our world a better, more tolerant place.
A microaggression is a small, everyday behavior that contributes to the marginalization of certain groups — for example, telling a woman her clothes are too revealing or expressing pity for someone with a disability. People who commit microaggressions aren't usually trying to put anyone down, but what matters is not the intent but the impact. Think of it this way: If you unintentionally bump into someone on the street, you'd still apologize, right? Same goes with your words.
But a mere "I'm sorry" is far from all you can do. Demonstrating that you've learned something from the experience, promising to do better in the future, and making good on that promise back up your words with actions — and actions are how real, positive change is made. Here are some things to do and remember when you've been called out for microaggressions, even if they were unintentional.
1. Resist The Urge To Defend Yourself
It may be tempting to let people know you're on their side by telling them you didn't know a certain word was offensive or didn't mean to imply something negative, but this just comes off like you're trying to excuse your behavior. Instead, own the fact that your words may have affected someone negatively, regardless of your intent when you said them.
2. Apologize As Soon As Possible
It may take a minute to get your thoughts together, but once you do, sincerely apologize as quickly as you can. The person who called you out is also in a vulnerable position, and saying nothing can come off like you're trivializing their concerns.
3. Thank Them
It's nobody's duty to educate you about social justice, so even if it doesn't feel good, calling you out is a favor. Thank them for it appropriately.
4. Explain What You've Learned
A good apology isn't just "sorry" — it also explains what you're apologizing for. Explain why what you've done is wrong so the person who called you out knows you've learned something.
5. Don't Expect Anything In Return
They may forgive you, or they may not. That's totally up to them, and it's OK if they don't.
6. Remember This Doesn't Make You A Bad Person
Of course, you should acknowledge you've messed up. But don't take the callout too personally. Everybody messes up sometimes. The important thing is that you learn from it.
7. Do Your Research
There's a lot to learn about being a good ally that can't be described in a single call-out, so ensure you do better in the future by reading up on the issue at hand. There's an entire internet full of valuable resources at the tip of your fingers, so actively work to educate yourself instead of passively waiting for someone else to educate you.
8. Try Harder In The Future
Another piece of a good apology is making sure it doesn't happen again to the best of your ability. And if someone else does the same thing, you can help make up for your mistake by calling them out, too.