What is racial harassment? 

The Equality Act 2010 states that a person harasses another if they engage in unwanted behaviour related to a relevant protected characteristic, such as race, and the behaviour has the purpose or effect of: 
  • violating the other person's dignity, or 
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person. 
Unwanted behaviour will amount to racial harassment if it has such an effect, even if that was not the intended purpose of the behaviour. In deciding whether behaviour has that effect each of the following must be taken into account: 
  • the perception of the person 
  • the other circumstances of the case, and 
  • whether it is reasonable for the behaviour to have that effect. 

What are racial microaggressions?  

Racial microaggressions (also known as micro-incivilities / micro-inequities) have been defined as: 

brief, everyday interactions that send denigrating messages to a person because they belong to a racially minoritised group. Compared to more overt forms of racism, racial microaggressions are subtle and insidious, often leaving the victim confused, distressed and frustrated and the perpetrator oblivious of the offense they have caused  (Rollock, 2012). 

Microaggression is not a legal term and such behaviour will not necessarily amount to harassment under the Equality Act 2010. This will depend on the facts of each case. 

As the definition of microaggressions suggests, the perpetrator of the microaggression may not have any harassing intent. Whether their behaviour amounts to harassment is likely to depend on the effect it had on the victim. However, microaggressions that do not meet the Equality Act definition of harassment could lead to behaviour which does meet the definition through repetition or escalation of the behaviour (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2018). 

It is important to bear in mind that intent is not the same as impact; and a throw-away comment or joke can have a huge impact on another person. It is everyone’s responsibility to think about the impact that their words or actions might have on someone else.  
Examples of microagressions include: 
  • Not acknowledging someone's contribution. 
  • Constantly criticising and never praising. 
  • Not providing timely and constructive feedback.
  • Assuming intellectual inferiority based on race.
  • Endorsing religious stereotypes.
  • Casual use of derogatory slurs. 
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