A ‘micropedia’ makes micro aggressions more apparent

An initiative from Zulu Alpha Kilo and a number of D&I organizations chronicles how common phrases can cause harm.


One of the most common forms of discrimination is also one of the most covert, but a new project from some of Canada’s leading diversity advocates and ad agency Zulu Alpha Kilo aims to change that.

Called the “Micropedia of Microaggressions,” the initiative seeks to chronicle the simple and subtle things people say that have large impacts on the day-to-day lives of People of Colour and reinforce systemic discrimination. The primary goal is to raise awareness of the issue and cut down on the frequency that these phrases work their way into regular conversations.

“Drawing inspiration from other community-driven wikis, the ‘Micropedia’ can be a helpful tool for documenting these instances and connecting people to relevant resources in a judgement-free way,” says Stephanie Yung, head of design and ECD at Zulu Alpha Kilo. “This is especially important when conversation emerges around clear examples of microaggressions in wider culture and our everyday lives. We can’t change what we don’t know.”

Because of the systemic nature of racism and discrimination, many people who commit microagressions may not even be aware they are doing so. People experiencing them may not even realize it until the instances add up and their emotional impact has already taken its toll.

The Micropedia, which can be easily accessed online, aims to use education to proactively combat them. It has sections based on race, 2SLGBTQ+ identity, ability, age, gender and economic class. Each example features a definition that explains exactly why it is harmful, as well as resources people can use to combat or disprove the phrases.

A video promoting the site details both examples of microagressions – from people being told they don’t “act Black” to a disabled person having to be constantly asked “what happened” – and the toll it takes.

Microaggressions are commonplace in Canadian society, with 60% of Indigenous peoples reporting that they feel emotionally unsafe at work and more than half of Black people saying that Canada is no better than the U.S. when it comes to anti-Black racism. A further 63% of Americans have witnessed or potentially witnessed microaggressions in the workplace.

The situation is no better for women – only 32% of whom believe Canadian workplaces treat them equally with men – and members of sexual minorities, a quarter of whom have experienced unwanted sexual attention while at work.

themicropedia-powwow-fullsizeThe Micropedia was developed on behalf of organizations including The Black Business and Professional Association, the Canadian Congress on Diversity and Workplace Equity, Pride at Work and Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute. It includes a user submission element to allow people to contribute new entries that can help improve upon it.

“Unlike for example, overt anti-Black racism, microaggressions are often more subtle. Often, they are harder to ‘prove’ and we second guess ourselves, adding to the negative effects,” says Nadine Spencer, president and CEO of the Black Business and Professional Association. “It can also be exhausting to decide what to call out and when or how to explain why something is harmful, especially when comments may be the result of ignorance rather than malice. This resource explains the harm a person might unknowingly cause and includes real-life examples.”