Black History Month is underway. I attended an excellent event hosted by Amnesty International, Canada called “Mental Health and US”. A panel of four Black mental health experts and advocates spoke about the challenges of navigating the mental health system in Canada.

Today’s spotlight story is about how racial microaggressions affect people of colour. The word itself often makes some people feel tired and exhausted. It is encouraging that young people of colour as young as 12 are talking about microaggressions. I never heard of the word nor was it discussed when I was a student. I'm glad it's being talked about in the media. In researching this topic, I learned that for permanent change to happen, you need both sides — non-white and white people — to have more open, face-to-face dialogue to better understand each other.

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⌚Approximate reading time is 10 minutes.


➡️ Microaggressions: What are they, how dangerous are they and how do you handle them

➡️ Black creators and creators of colour have to "be perfect" to receive gifts from brands

➡️ How two Toronto-based spoken word poets experience microaggressions


“For nonwhites, racial microaggressions find a way into every part of every day. Microaggressions are constant reminders that you don’t belong, that you are less than, that you are not worthy of the same respect that white people are afforded. They keep you off balance, keep you distracted, and keep you defensive. They keep you from enjoying an outing on the town or a day at the office."

Ijeoma Oluo, Writer, So You Want to Talk About Race


Microaggressions: a thousand little cuts

Photo source

Ask a woman or a person of colour and they'll probably have a recent story about a microaggression. Columbia University psychologist, Derald Sue, says microaggressions are sometimes hard to identify because they exist on a "continuum from being very deliberate and conscious to being outside of one's consciousness". Today, we're talking about racial microaggressions (others types include disability, gender, and sexual orientation). In his book Microaggressions in Everyday Life, Sue defines microaggressions as:

"the everyday slights, indignities, insults, put-downs, and invalidations that people of color experience in their day-to-day interactions with well-intentioned individuals who are unaware that they are engaging in an offensive or demeaning form of behavior."

Types of microaggressions: Sue identifies 3 types:

  1. Micro Assault: An overt intentional microaggression where the person knows they are harmful and derogatory. (eg. - using a racial slur against someone knowing it is derogatory.)
  2. Micro Insult: A more subtle communication like comments with an underlying meaning or a backhanded compliment not known to the perpetrator. These subtle snubs convey rudeness, and insensitivity and are demeaning. (e.g - somebody got the job because they're an affirmative action hire).
  3. Micro Invalidation: This communication negates or nullifies a marginalized person or group's experience of prejudice by saying their views don't matter or that they are overreacting.

Racial Microaggressions are dangerous over time: The cumulative effect of microaggressions is that they can make you feel like you are "less than". Beyond school and work, they also happen on social media, in media, TV, film, sports, and just about anywhere. Marginalized people often feel isolated, invalidated, overlooked, and underrepresented. A 2014 study of 405 young adults of colour found that experiencing microaggressions can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.

5 Ways to combat microaggressions: Sue made a video sharing some tips:

  1. Be constantly vigilant of your own biases.
  2. Spend time with people who differ from you by race, culture, and ethnicity - easy in the Toronto region.
  3. Don't be defensive.
  4. Be open to discussing your bias and attitudes if they may have hurt someone.
  5. Be an ally and stand up against all forms of bias and discrimination. Watch this video of a Lyft Uber driver, James Bode, being an ally.

Tiktokers and microaggressions in Canada:

Incident 1: In December 2022, Tiktoker and mental health advocate, Augustina Ampofo, who lives in Toronto, made a video called, "Storytime: Booking a cottage while black". She exchanged messages on a website with the owner about renting her cottage. Out of the blue, the owner wrote,

"We love renting to normal traditional Canadian families” … “I’m a bit of a racist".

Ampofo's initial reaction was one of shock and ended the interaction only to bring up the reason after the owner followed up asking why she was no longer interested.

Incident 2: In January, TikToker mizz_crizzy was on a Westjet flight to Toronto. She made a TikTok called, "My first racist encounter."

An older white lady passenger who was sitting beside her sent a text message to a friend that read:

“I am looking out the window. Other two seats are taken by two very large, dolled-up black ladies, one of whom is extremely hostile.”

The benefit of posting a video on social media is that it creates a conversation and allies will support you.

Youth and microaggressions: Students are rejecting microaggressions on American college campuses as seen in a video called Comments that Sting from the New York Times. Being 12 is a video showing how microaggressions affect kids as young as 12.

A 2020 study found Black youths in the U.S. have an average of 70 experiences of racial discrimination over a 14-day period. Rather than view children and adolescents as naive and insulate them, it is recommended that parents, teachers, coaches, and mental health professionals have those tough conversations with young people soon after microaggressions happen.

Award-winning short film highlights microaggressions: Silent Partner is a 16-minute short film that won four Best Short Film Awards in 2022. The story features a black attorney at a white-shoe law firm questioning the legitimacy of his recent promotion. Roderick Lawrence, American co-writer and lead actor, made the film,

"to dive into the microaggression mind game - its effects on our psyche and mental health and the scars it leaves that are never addressed in our community."


The Business of Art: I recently attended the 9th annual RISE Edutainment Summit. The event's aim was to bridge the gap between emerging and professional artists. Speaking with Randell Adjei @randelladjei, who is the Executive and Creative Director of R.I.S.E (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere), he repeatedly references words like community, healing, inclusive, and safe space talking about the organization's mission. Adjei means what he says and is also an accomplished author, speaker, and Ontario's 1st Poet Laureate from Toronto.

At the RISE Summit, I met Desiree Mckenzie @desireemckenzie and Spoken By T @spokenbyt, two rising stars based in Toronto, who are spoken word poets and artists.

I asked them about their experiences with microaggressions.

Interview: Desiree McKenize was ranked among the top three poets in Canada at the 2020 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam. Her first EP of spoken word, WET HAIR, is available on Bandcamp and other streaming platforms. Desiree performed the poem, "The Canada no one wants to believe exists", calling for racial justice after the global racial justice protests that followed George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis in May 2020.

SF: What's been your experience of microaggressions growing up in Toronto?

Des: Being told I'm well-spoken/smarter than a person thought when doing something very basic/something that I wouldn't be underqualified for (this would happen a lot in school).

SF: How did you handle this incident? What do you do to maintain good mental health?

Des: "In those moments, I didn't know what to do. For a long time, I would just take it as a compliment/acceptance but now I understand how it can be backhanded for racialized folks, especially when said in an overly enthusiastic/ patronizing way. Now I would handle it by addressing it with the person, and stating how it can be received (in some cases this is harder than others, but I'm working on it!)"

"Writing poetry is a huge outlet for me and spending time with people who have similar experiences to me to be affirmed in my feelings - also discovering new music!"

SF: How do you deal with negative online haters or trolls leaving hurtful and negative comments on social media?

Des: “I personally have never really dealt with them but the way I would try to view it if I did is to try to understand that while it hurts, you have to remember the mission you’re on and what you stand for, which I would imagine, doesn’t include time to spew hate or respond to people who do on the internet.”

“Try your best to focus on those who empower and uplift your work - but most of all, people who will respectfully question it/give feedback in a well mannered and appropriate way.”

Interview: Spoken By T @spokenbyt in early February performed at Mayor John Tory’s annual Black History Month Reception and recently sold out her first self-curated show at The Drake Underground.

SF: What was your experience with microaggressions growing up in Toronto?

Spoken By T: "Due to the fact that I am of mixed race, I’ve experienced a multitude of racist and microaggressions over the years, a lot of them alluding to my “lack” of blackness and being “too white”. The most common ones I’ve experienced that have sat with me for a long time is colour blindness and being limited to someone who isn’t of colour, due to my pigmentation, hair texture and ethnic background. I’ve been told an abundance of times by members from all races & communities that I’m not black, or black enough, and that I know nothing about black culture because my mother is white."

"While the list can extend to assumed criminality amongst myself and my friends, as well as the comments relating to being loud “because I’m black”, which in retrospect is contradictory to the other side of microaggressions I do face, the long-lasting ones regarding my skin tone and ethnic background and “quality” has impacted me and shaped the way I view myself in a poorer light."

SF: How did you handle this incident? What do you do to maintain good mental health?

Spoken By T: "Depending on the nature of the comment and the tone in which it’s said, I often laugh it off to avoid controversy or confrontation because truly at the end of the day, that’s easier. I find myself to be more of an advocate against comments like these when they’re directed outwardly towards my friends or people I’m surrounded by.

Over the years, I’ve become accepting of the reality that you can’t control anyone but yourself so in that, I find comfort in letting those who think ignorantly, to eventually learn on their own path. It’s not my job to educate every time I’m hurt, I’d rather spend my time healing."

SF: How do you deal with negative online haters or trolls leaving hurtful and negative comments on social media?

Spoken By T: I definitely just ignore them! Anyone who spends time antagonizing someone behind a screen does not have the strength or level of maturity to address it in person. It’s a waste of time & energy to consume myself with anything negative coming toward me in that fashion.

Wrap-up: Talking with Spoken By T and Desiree Mckenzie made me wonder where their strength comes from, despite experiencing their share of racial trauma and setbacks. They're undaunted, driven, focused, and hungry. I think adversity speeds up self-awareness and a need to find belonging in sisterhood, and communities like R.I.S.E. for these creators. Healing is an important benefit that comes from stubbornly pursuing your craft. What this means is that you should follow them because they're going places!


🎙️ Amnesty International Canada launched their first-ever podcast in Canada February 1st. Rights Back At You tackles anti-Black racism, policing, and surveillance in Canada.

🎵 Toronto DJ, Angel, or 'Angelphroot', her stage name, wants to help more marginalized people navigate the city's nightlife like women of colour, LGBTQ2IA+ and BIPOC folks. We covered her in a previous issue when Instagram didn't pay her for a whole year and she also shared her winter self-care hack.

📈 Statistics Canada released their labour force data in January. While men (73%) and landed immigrants (55%) make up the majority of delivery and rideshare drivers in the gig economy, women represent more than half (58.4%) of content creators who create videos, blogs, or podcasts totaling 58,000 people on a digital platform or an app. The age ranges from 16 to 69.

📦 If you want to learn more about inequality in the influencer and creator economy, check which creator names are on the lists of public relations firms. Black creators and creators of colour increasingly have to "be perfect" if they want to receive promotional products and gifts from brands. They receive gifts at a lower rate than white creators.

🚫 What happens if the U.S. bans TikTok? One in three Americans use TikTok and 8.3 million Canadians used TikTok in 2022, the majority being between 18 and 29 years. It has 1 billion active monthly users.