Get to know the sociopolitical context behind microaggressions Microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership (e.g., race, gender, culture, religion, social class, sexual orientation, etc.). These daily, common manifestations of aggression leave many people feeling vulnerable, targeted, angry, and afraid. How has this become such a pervasive part of our social and political rhetoric, and what is the psychology behind it? In Microaggression Theory, the original research team that created the microaggressions taxonomy, Gina Torino, David Rivera, Christina Capodilupo, Kevin Nadal, and Derald Wing Sue, address these issues head-on in a fascinating work that explores the newest findings of microaggressions in their sociopolitical context. It delves into how the often invisible nature of this phenomenon prevents perpetrators from realizing and confronting their own complicity in creating psychological dilemmas for marginalized groups, and discusses how prejudice, privilege, safe spaces, and cultural appropriation have become themes in our contentious social and political discourse. * Details the psychological effects of microaggressions in separate chapters covering clinical impact, trauma, related stress syndromes, and the effect on perpetrators * Examines how microaggressions affect education, employment, health care, and the media * Explores how social policies and practices can minimize the occurrence and impact of microaggressions in a range of environments * Investigates how microaggressions relate to larger social movements If you come across the topic of microaggressions in your day-to-day life, you can keep the conversation going in a productive manner--with research to back it up!
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Gina C. Torino David P. Rivera Christina M. Capodilupo Kevin L. Nadal Derald Wing Sue
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Torino, Gina C., editor. Title: Microaggression theory : influence and implications / edited by Gina C. Torino [and four others]. Description: Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2019. | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Identifiers: LCCN 2018022532 (print) | LCCN 2018024513 (ebook) | ISBN 9781119420071 (Adobe PDF) | ISBN 9781119420064 (ePub) | ISBN 9781119420040 (hardcover) Subjects: LCSH: Microaggressions. | Prejudices. | Discrimination. Classification: LCC BF575.P9 (ebook) | LCC BF575.P9 M53 2019 (print) | DDC 303.3/85--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018022532
This book is dedicated to Dr. Chester Pierce (1927–2016) who forged the path of microaggressions research for generations to come.
About the Editors
About the Authors
Part I Microaggression Theory
Chapter 1 Everything You Wanted to Know About Microaggressions but Didn't Get a Chance to Ask
Myths About Microaggressions
Impact of Microaggressions
Intervention and Prevention
Chapter 2 Aversive Racism, Implicit Bias, and Microaggressions
Aversive Racism and Implicit Bias
Aversive Racism, Implicit Bias, and Interracial Interaction
Health and Healthcare Interactions
Aversive Racism, Implicit Bias, and Microaggressions: Integration
Future Directions in Research on Subtle Bias and Microaggressions
Chapter 3 Multidimensional Models of Microaggressions and Microaffirmations
Multidimensional Perspectives on Racism
Counterstories of Microaggressions and Microaffirmations
Conclusions and Implications
Chapter 4 Intersectionality Theory and Microaggressions: Implications for Research, Teaching, and Practice
Herstory of Intersectionality Theory
Intersectional Approaches in Psychology
Intersections of Race and Gender Microaggressions
Intersections of Race and Sexual Orientation Microaggressions
Intersections of Race and Social Class Microaggressions
Intersections of Race and Religious Microaggressions
Recommendations for Research, Teaching, and Clinical Practice
Part II Detrimental Impact of Microaggressions
Chapter 5 Microaggressions: Clinical Impact and Psychological Harm
Psychological Harm of Microaggressions: A Review of the Research
Observing Microaggressions: Was That Racist?
Clinical Impacts of Microaggressions
A New Way Forward: Therapists' Multicultural Orientation
Chapter 6 Microaggressions: Considering the Framework of Psychological Trauma
Contemporary Relevance of Microaggression Trauma
Chapter 7 Factors Contributing to Microaggressions, Racial Battle Fatigue, Stereotype Threat, and Imposter Phenomenon for Nonhegemonic Students: Implications for Urban Education
Introduction and Review of Key Terms
Students in the Classroom
Teaching and Teacher Education
Case Study: An Invitation to Speak at an Urban Charter School
Chapter 8 Microaggressions and Internalized Oppression: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Institutional Impacts of “Internalized Microaggressions”
Clinical and Community Impacts of Internalized Microaggressions
Chapter 9 “I Didn't Know That Was Racist”: Costs of Racial Microaggressions to White People
The Socioeconomic Context in Which Whites Perpetrate Racial Microaggressions
The Psychosocial Benefits of a White-Privileging Racialized Social System
Psychosocial Costs of Racism to Whites
Costs of Racism to Whites and Racial Microaggressions
Two Racial Microaggressions Scenarios
Part III Manifestation of Microaggressions
Chapter 10 The 360-Degree Experience of Workplace Microaggressions: Who Commits Them? How Do Individuals Respond? What Are the Consequences?
Microaggressions in Pre-employment
Microaggressions in the Workplace
Responding to Microaggressions in the Workplace
Consequences of Microaggressions
Organizational Buffers against Microaggressions
Chapter 11 Microaggressions: Toxic Rain in Health Care
Individual Determinants of Health
Structural Sociodemographic Determinants of Health
Sociocultural Determinants of Health
Microaggressions and Health Outcomes
Microaggressions in Health Care
The Psychological Hazards of Microaggressions
Chapter 12 From Racial Microaggressions to Hate Crimes: A Model of Online Racism Based on the Lived Experiences of Adolescents of Color
Overview of Current Conceptualizations of Online Racism
Definitions and Current Research on Three Types of Online Racism
A Model of Online Racism
Implications for Youth Development
Chapter 13 Environmental Microaggressions: Context, Symbols, and Mascots
Context of First Nations Cultural Misappropriation in American Society
Native-Themed Mascots, Nicknames, and Logos in Sports
Native-Themed Sports Logos: Societally Embedded Visual Microaggressions
Sports Mascots: We Are the Indians!
Psychological Dilemmas of Responding
Part IV Microaggressions and Social Policies and Practices
Chapter 14 Microaggressions and Student Activism: Harmless Impact and Victimhood Controversies
Microaggression Discourse in Higher Education
Harmless Impact Controversy
Implications: Free Speech, Safe Spaces, and Trigger Warnings
Chapter 15 “Radical by Necessity, Not by Choice”: From Microaggressions to Social Activism
What's Your Issue?
The Paths from Oppression to Activism
Speaking Back to Those Who Oppress: Challenging Cis-Tems of Dispossession and Humiliation
Theorizing “Conversion Strategies”: Metabolizing Oppression into Activism
Part V Microaggressions: Interventions and Strategies
Chapter 16 Microaggressions: Workplace Interventions
Chapter 17 “Compliments” and “Jokes”: Unpacking Racial Microaggressions in the K-12 Classroom
Critical Race Theory
Racial Microaggressions as Racism
Case #1: “Your vocabulary is extraordinary!”
Case #2: “I wouldn't want to call you Gandhi by accident or something”
Case #3: “They don't steal anything, do they?”
Interventions and Strategies
Discussion and Implications
Chapter 18 Microaggressions in Higher Education: Embracing Educative Spaces
Understanding Hierarchical Microaggressions
Educate the Campus—Systemic Solutions to Microaggressions
Educate the Workforce—Reactive Solutions to Microaggressions
Part VI The Future of Microaggression Theory
Chapter 19 Microaggression Theory: What the Future Holds
Future Areas of Research
Frameworks and Concepts
Refinement of the Taxonomy
Development of Additional Themes
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Figure 3.1 Multidimensional Model of Racism.
Figure 8.1 A Conceptual Framework for Internalized Microaggressions.
Figure 9.1 Photograph by Getty Images News Photographer Scott Olson. © Scott Olson/GettyImages
Figure 9.2 Photograph by St. Louis-Based Freelance Photographer Michael Thomas. © Michael Thomas/GettyImages
Figure 12.1 Taxonomy of Online Racism.
Figure 15.1 Precarity and Discrimination Experiences.
Figure 15.2 Associations between Discrimination and Activism by Gender.
Figure 15.3 Associations between Discrimination and Activism by Race.
Figure 19.1 Original Taxonomy from 2007: Categories of and Relationships among Racial Microaggressions.
Figure 19.2 Revised Taxonomy of Microaggressions.
This book would not be possible without the support of so many of our colleagues who have advanced Microaggression Theory in both academia and mainstream discourse. First, we thank all of our brilliant authors who have contributed such thought-provoking and well-conceptualized chapters to this set; we are appreciative of your critical and refreshing takes on how far microaggression research has come and which directions it can go in the future. Second, we thank our original research team (also known as Sue's Crew) for their work in conceptualizing or publishing our original American Psychologist journal article and preliminary studies. Special thank you to Jennifer Bucceri, Marta Esquilin, Aisha Holder, Peter Donnelly, Annie Lin, Angela Kim, Rachel Kim, Nicole Jackson, Suah Kim, and Chantea Williams. Further, we would also like to acknowledge our colleagues and student research assistants who continued to work with us on expanding on both qualitative and quantitative research on microaggressions. These include Lauren Appio, Rebecca Rangel Campon, Melissa Corpus, E.J.R. David, Kristin Davidoff, Melissa DiCarlo, Tanya Erazo, Chassitty Fiani, Lauren Fisher, Alexis Forbes, Gerry Goodson, Katie Griffin, Sahran Hamit, Krista Herbert, Marie-Anne Issa, Jayleen Leon, Silvia Mazzula, Marc Johnston-Guerrero, Vanessa Meterko, Amanda Sisselman-Borgia, Avy Skolnik, Kristin Smith, Julie Sriken, Gloria Wong, Stephanie Wong, and Yinglee Wong. Finally, we acknowledge our family and loved ones for always encouraging and supporting us—especially Kaleohano Mendoza-Nadal, Harry Schwefel, Paulina Wee Sue, and S. K. Wolff.
Christina M. Capodilupo, Ph.D., is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her areas of interest include the etiology of eating disorders and body image issues for Women of Color and everyday experiences of oppression and their impact on mental health. She has published multiple works that explore the connections between racism and sexism with body image and feelings of self-worth. Recently, she and a colleague have developed a scale that measures gender microaggressions for women.
Kevin L. Nadal, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York. He is the former Executive Director of the Center for LGBTQ Studies, the past President of the Asian American Psychological Association, and the cofounder of the LGBTQ Scholars of Color Network. He has written over 100 publications and 8 books including Microaggressions and Traumatic Stress; Filipino American Psychology; and That's So Gay! Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community.
David P. Rivera, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Counselor Education at Queens College, City University of New York. His research focuses on cultural competency and issues impacting the marginalization and well-being of People of Color, oppressed sexual orientation and gender identity groups, and low-income/first-generation college students, with a focus on microaggressions. He holds leadership roles with the American Psychological Association, the National Multicultural Conference & Summit, The Steve Fund, the Council for Opportunity in Education, and CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.
Gina C. Torino, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at SUNY Empire State College. Dr. Torino has authored numerous scholarly articles on racial, gender, and other microaggressions, processes of White racial identity development, and teaching strategies for the development of cultural competencies. Moreover, she is a diversity consultant, a microaggression training specialist, and a New York State licensed psychologist.
Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Education in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. He served as presidents of the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues, the Society of Counseling Psychology, and the Asian American Psychological Association. He is known for his work on racism and antiracism, microaggressions, and the psychology of racial dialogues.
Dr. Myron R. Anderson serves MSU Denver, as the Chief Diversity Officer, responsible for developing a strategic vision to resolve campus climate issues. Anderson's research focuses on the intersection of microaggressions and workplace bullying, and he copublished the article “Hierarchal Microaggressions in Higher Education” and presented his research on “How to Move Climate Survey Data to Institutional Policy” at the University of Oxford.
Nallely Arteaga is a Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. Her work examines the racialized processes traditional comprehensive high schools participate in to remove Black and Latinx students into alternative schools. Ms. Arteaga is a former continuation high school teacher.
Caryn Block is a Professor of Psychology and Education in the Social-Organizational Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her work focuses on the effects of stereotypes on individual work experiences and organizational processes. She examines how women and People of Color navigate careers when they are in the demographic minority. She also works with organizations to identify diversity dynamics in systems that may unwittingly impede the advancement of women and People of Color.
Thema Bryant-Davis is a licensed psychologist, Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University, and Director of the Culture and Trauma research lab. She is a past psychology representative to the United Nations and a past president of the Society for the Psychology of Women. She is author of the book Thriving in the Wake of Trauma: A Multicultural Guide and co-editor of the books, Religion and Spirituality in Diverse Women's Lives and Womanist and Mujerista Psychologies. The California Psychological Association honored Dr. Bryant-Davis as Distinguished Scholar of the Year.
Allison Cabana is a participatory researcher and doctoral candidate in the Critical Social Psychology program at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Her work has included What's Your Issue?—a national Participatory Action Research project investigating LGBTQ+ and GNC Youth of Color's experiences with community and identity.
Rebecca R. Campón, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist who specializes in the areas of multiculturalism, internalized racism, and women's health. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Professional Psychology and Family Therapy at Seton Hall University. Dr. Campón has extensive clinical experience working with underrepresented populations in various outreach settings across the country, including Boston, Denver, and New York City areas. Her work focuses on appropriated racial oppression, health, and mental health of underrepresented populations and women's health issues.
D Anthony Clark is Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Leadership and Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University. His research interests are in modern U.S. culture and law, the sociology of race and indigeneity, and racial justice. He has published 17 articles, 25 essays and reviews, and delivered over 40 presentations. He is past president of the mid-America American Studies Association.
Maria C. Crouch, M.S., is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical-Community Psychology program with a rural and Indigenous emphasis at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is of Deg Hit'an Athabascan, Mexican, and Scandinavian heritage. Her clinical, research, and community passions are rooted diversity, intersectionality, and Alaska Native mental health.
E.J.R. David, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage where he also directs the Alaska Native Community Advancement in Psychology Program. Dr. David has produced four books, Brown Skin, White Minds: Filipino-/American Postcolonial Psychology; Internalized Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups; The Psychology of Oppression; and We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet. He has received national honors and recognitions for his work, including Fellow Status by the AAPA for “Unusual and Outstanding Contributions to Asian American Psychology.”
John F. Dovidio is the Carl Iver Hovland Professor of Psychology, as well as Dean of Academic Affairs of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, at Yale University. His research interests are in stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Much of his scholarship, in collaboration with Dr. Samuel L. Gaertner, has focused on “aversive racism,” a subtle form of contemporary racism.
Joanna M. Drinane is a doctoral candidate at the University of Denver and a doctoral intern at the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on psychotherapy process and outcome specifically looking at cultural processes, therapist effects, and within therapist identity-based disparities.
Michelle Fine is a Distinguished Professor of Critical Psychology and Women/Gender Studies at the Graduate Center CUNY. Her new book Just Research in Contentious Times: Widening the Methodological Imagination is available from Teachers College Press.
David Frost, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at University College London. His research interests sit at the intersections of close relationships, stress, stigma, and health. His work has been recognized by grants and awards from the National Institutes of Health, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the New York Academy of Sciences.
Cecile A. Gadson, M.A., is a doctoral candidate in the Counseling Psychology Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Currently, she is working under the mentorship of Dr. Jioni Lewis. Her research interests are focused on the influence of the intersection of race and gender on the emotional, mental, and physical health of young Black women and girls.
Aisha M. B. Holder is a Staff Psychologist at Columbia University Counseling and Psychological Services. Prior to pursuing a career in counseling psychology, Dr. Holder was a Vice President at JPMorgan Chase working in various business groups in Human Resources. Dr. Holder has coauthored articles on racial microaggressions published in American Psychologist; Professional Psychology; Research and Practice; and Qualitative Psychology journals.
Jacqueline Hyman is a second-year doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at Indiana University, with specialization in Sport and Performance Psychology. Her research interests within Sport Psychology take an identity-based approach by examining the impact of race, masculinity, and sexual orientation on athletes' perceptions of self in sport and society, particularly in times of athletic transition (i.e., athletic advancement, athletic retirement).
Dr. James M. Jones is Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Africana Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Diversity at the Universality of Delaware. His books on race and diversity include, Prejudice and Racism (1972, 1997), and The Psychology of Diversity: Beyond Prejudice and Racism (2014; with Jack Dovidio and Deborah Vietze).
Jennifer Young-Jin Kim is a doctoral candidate in the Social-Organizational Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research is focused on diversity and inclusion topics such as the negative effects of workplace microaggressions and ways to reduce their occurrence. She also works with organizations to facilitate conversations and interventions aimed at addressing workplace microaggressions.
Rita Kohli is an Assistant Professor in the Education, Society, and Culture Program in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. A former public school teacher, she is the codirector of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice and serves on the editorial board for the international journal Race, Ethnicity and Education.
Jioni A. Lewis, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her research is focused on the influence of subtle forms of racism and sexism on the health of Women of Color. She developed the Gendered Racial Microaggressions Scale, which is a self-report measure to assess the intersection of gender and racial microaggressions.
Fantasy T. Lozada is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Developmental Psychology Area at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her work focuses on the intersections between culture, race, and emotion in predicting ethnic minority youth's socioemotional development in the context of familial, school, and technological constructs.
Jennifer L. Martin is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Illinois at Springfield. She is the editor of Racial Battle Fatigue: Insights from the Front Lines of Social Justice Advocacy (Recipient of the 2016 AERA Division B's Outstanding Book Recognition Award), and coauthor of Teaching for Educational Equity: Case Studies for Professional Development and Principal Preparation, Volumes I and II. Her most recent edited volume is Feminist Pedagogy, Practice, and Activism: Improving Lives for Girls and Women.
Silvia L. Mazzula, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist with extensive experience on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her work focuses on social and cultural determinants of stress and trauma, including discrimination and microaggressions, culturally responsive research and scholarship, and Latinx mental health. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a founder and the Executive Director of the Latina Researchers Network, the country's first multi-disciplinary network for Latina researchers, scholars, and allies.
Elexia R. McGovern is an Assistant Professor in the Teacher Education Department in the College of Education at the California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her work explores culturally responsive literacy practices of home-grown, activist Teachers of Color. She is a former public high school teacher.
Anahvia T. Moody, B.A., is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, working under the mentorship of Dr. Jioni Lewis. Her research interests are broadly focused on the experiences of African American women and girls, including gendered racial socialization and trauma. Her clinical interests are focused on body image among young women.
Duoc Nguyen is a doctoral candidate in the Social-Organizational Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. His research focuses on the effects of microaggressions and racism in the workplace using both qualitative and quantitative methods. He also works with organizations to improve their workforce capacity by hiring more effective employees through the creation and use of selections tools.
Jesse Owen is an Associate Professor in the Counseling Psychology Department at the University of Denver. His research focuses on psychotherapy process and outcome, with a focus on multicultural processes and therapists' multicultural orientation.
Adam R. Pearson is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Pomona College. His research explores how intergroup biases shape interaction, perception, and nonverbal behavior. He is recipient of an APA Early Career Achievement Award, the Morton Deutsch Award from the International Society for Justice Research, and the Social Psychology Network's Action Teaching Award for innovative teaching.
Louis A. Penner is a Professor of Oncology at Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute. His work focuses on social psychological aspects of physician–patient interactions, with a special emphasis on racial health care disparities. Much of this work concerns how race-related attitudes can affect what transpires during racially discordant medical interactions. He has authored or coauthored over 150 scholarly articles, book chapters, and books.
Erica J. Peppers, M.P.H., is a counseling psychology doctoral student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her research interests are focused on the physiological impact of minority stressors on mental health and health disparities. She has presented her work at national conferences including the Association of Black Psychologists, the National Multicultural Conference and Summit, and the Winter Roundtable Conference.
Jessica Petalio is a doctoral student in the Ph.D. program in Clinical-Community Psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) with a rural, Indigenous, and cultural emphasis. Her research primarily focuses on ethnic minority psychology, Filipina/o American psychology, and microaggressions. As a San Francisco Bay Area native, Jessica has been actively involved in various Filipina/o American organizations at San Francisco State University and continues to serve the Filipina/o American community in Anchorage.
Dr. Rosalie Rolón-Dow is Associate Professor of Education and Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Diversity at the University of Delaware. Her publications on race include, Diaspora Studies in Education: Towards a Framework for Understanding the Experiences of Transnational Communities (2014; edited with Jason Irizarry), and articles in Race, Ethnicity and Education (2011), and Diaspora, Indigenous and Minority Education (2010).
Naila A. Smith is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Dickinson College. She earned her Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology from Fordham University. She studies how social relationships and contexts (e.g., classrooms, online) influence academic and socioemotional development from childhood through emerging adulthood. She focuses primarily on these developmental processes in immigrant and racial-ethnic minority populations.
Lisa Spanierman is Professor and Faculty Head of Counseling and Counseling Psychology at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on multicultural competence, white racial attitudes, and racial microaggressions. She has published more than 60 articles and chapters and co-edited Unveiling Whiteness in the 21st century: Global Manifestations, Transdisciplinary Interventions. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association.
Dr. Jesse A. Steinfeldt is a Psychologist and Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology at Indiana University. His research and clinical work revolve around the intersection of Multicultural Psychology, Sport Psychology, and the Psychology of Men and Masculinities. Dr. Steinfeldt has a personal and professional interest in First Nations empowerment; he has written several scholarly articles, given numerous presentations, and provided official testimony both nationally and internationally on the issue of the psychological impact of Native-themed mascots, nicknames, and logos in sport.
M. Clint Steinfeldt is an educator and lifelong college and high school football coach. A tribally affiliated descendent of the Oneida Nation, he has written extensively in the scholarly literature on the issue of Native-themed mascots, nicknames, and logos in sport. He incorporates critical thinking principles into his teaching, providing future generations with skills to become critical consumers of societal narratives.
Ashley M. Stewart is a graduate student in Educational Psychology at the University of Southern California. She earned her master's in Applied Developmental Psychology from New York University. She studies how experiences with media and technology both online and in classroom settings impact learning and development. She primarily focuses on ethnic minority populations in urban settings.
Karen W. Tao is an Assistant Professor in Counseling Psychology at the University of Utah. Her research and clinical work are driven by an overarching goal to reduce inequity in the access and quality of education and mental health services. Karen is interested in examining how people negotiate conversations about culture and difference and studying why multicultural competence matters.
Maria E. Torre, Ph.D., is the Director of The Public Science Project and faculty member in Critical Psychology at The CUNY Graduate Center. She introduced “participatory contact zones” to critical collaborative research, and continues to be interested in how democratic methodologies, radical inclusion, and a praxis of solidarity can inform a justice based public science for the public good.
Brendesha M. Tynes is an Associate Professor of Education and Psychology and Director of the Center for Empowered Learning and Development with Technology at the University of Southern California. Her research the past 16 years has focused on the construction of race and gender in online settings, online racial discrimination, and the design of digital tools that empower Youth of Color.
Marlene G. Williams, M.A., is a doctoral candidate in the Counseling Psychology Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Broadly, her research is focused on exploring Black women's experiences of gendered racial microaggressions and exploring dimensions of gendered racial identity development for Black women.
Dr. Kathryn S. Young is an Associate Professor of Secondary Education at Metropolitan State University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, and serves as the Faculty Fellow with the Office of Inclusion and Diversity. Her research interests include Disability Studies in Education, Inclusive Education, Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, Diversity in Higher Education, and Microaggressions in Education and the Workplace.
Gina C. Torino, David P. Rivera, Christina M. Capodilupo, Kevin L. Nadal, and Derald Wing Sue
Many controversies, myths, and misunderstandings have arisen over the definition of microaggressions and microaggression theory. In order to shed light on the questions and issues surrounding the concept and theory, we provide readers with answers and clarifications that contributing authors discuss in their chapters. It is not our intention to provide an exhaustive list of questions raised in research, theory, and in the manifestation of microaggressions, but rather to provide a thumbnail sketch of basic definitions. We have divided questions into four domains: (a) defining microaggressions, (b) myths about the concept, (c) their harmful impact, and (d) interventions that potentially lower the detrimental consequences.
What are microaggressions?
Answer: Simply stated, “microaggressions are derogatory slights or insults directed at a target person or persons who are members of an oppressed group.” Microaggressions communicate bias and can be delivered implicitly or explicitly. An example of an implicitly delivered microaggression might be a White woman clutching her purse tightly when an African American man enters an elevator. An explicitly expressed microaggression can occur when a woman overhears a male colleague tell another male colleague that she is a “bitch” after she asserts herself in the workplace.
How do microaggressions manifest? What forms do microaggressions take?
Answer: Three types of microaggressions have been identified in the literature and supported by empirical work: microassault, microinsult, and microinvalidation. The term microassault refers to a blatant verbal, nonverbal, or environmental attack intended to convey discriminatory and biased sentiments. This notion is related to overt racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and religious discrimination in which individuals deliberately convey derogatory messages to target groups. Using epithets like spic or faggot, hiring only men for managerial positions, and requesting not to sit next to a Muslim on an airplane are examples. Unless we are talking about White supremacists, most perpetrators with conscious biases will engage in overt discrimination only under three conditions: (a) when some degree of anonymity can be ensured, (b) when they are in the presence of others who share or tolerate their biased beliefs and actions, or (c) when they lose control of their feelings and actions. Because microassaults are most similar to old-fashioned racism, no guessing game is likely to occur as to their intent: to hurt or injure the recipient. Both the perpetrator and the recipient are clear about what has transpired. For this reason, microassaults are in many respects easier to deal with than those that are unintentional and outside the perpetrator's level of awareness (microinsults and microinvalidations).
Microinsults are unintentional behaviors or verbal comments that convey rudeness or insensitivity or demean a person's racial heritage/identity, gender identity, religion, ability, or sexual orientation identity. Despite being outside the level of conscious awareness, these subtle snubs are characterized by an insulting hidden message. For example, when a person assumes the Black woman standing in an academic office is a secretary (and not a professor) the underlying message is that Black women belong in service roles and are not intellectually capable of holding an advanced degree. African Americans and Latinx individuals consistently report that intellectual inferiority and assumptions about being less qualified and capable are common communications they receive from Whites in their everyday experiences. Microinvalidations are verbal comments or behaviors that exclude, negate, or dismiss the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of the target group. Like microinsults, they are unintentional and usually outside the perpetrator's awareness. A common microinvalidation is when individuals claim that they do not see religion or color but instead see only the human being. Common statements such as “there is only one race: the human race” negate the lived experiences of religious and ethnic minorities in the United States.
Are microaggressions always unintentional and unconscious?
Answer: They may be either. Microaggressions vary on a continuum from being intentional to unintentional. They are often reflections of a worldview of inclusion–exclusion, normality–abnormality, or superiority–inferiority. As such, they are often invisible to the perpetrator. Microaggressions may be expressed in the form of implicit bias where the individual is unaware of the biased communication, or via explicit bias where the person is well aware that they are engaging in discriminatory actions. The theory identifies three forms of microaggressions: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations. Microassaults are most similar to “old-fashioned” racism where it is most often conscious and deliberately expressed. Calling a Person of Color a racial epithet, or preventing a son or daughter from dating or marrying outside of one's race are examples of conscious intentionality. Although microinsults and microinvalidations may be intentional, they are most likely unintentionally communicated by the majority of dominant group members. Mistaking a Black person for a service worker, for example, is a microaggression that mistakenly views African Americans as less competent or capable.
How are microaggressions different from the everyday incivilities that can occur to everyone regardless of sociocultural identity?
Answer: While people of all racial groups may experience everyday incivilities (e.g., when strangers bump into you without apologizing; someone takes the parking space you were waiting for; having a supervisor who is condescending or unfriendly), microaggressions are more stressful because of the possibility that a person's race, gender, sexual orientation, or other identity group contributed to the interaction. When individuals of historically marginalized groups (e.g., People of Color, women, and LGBTQ people) are aware of historical or systemic discrimination or have experienced microaggressions in the past, they may be more conscious of how their identity groups impact interpersonal dynamics. When a person of historically privileged group (e.g., White people, men, heterosexual, and cisgender people) is the enactor of the incivility, even innocuous situations may be viewed as microaggressions.
Conversely, some people (especially individuals of historically privileged groups) may not view incivilities as microaggressions and instead are able to externalize or interpret other potential causes or reasons for the interaction. For instance, when someone bumps into you or takes the parking space you were waiting for, it might be easy to quickly the label the person as “a jerk.” Further, because some people may not experience such incivilities often, the impact of such instances may not be as powerful as how microaggressions that are experienced more frequently or intensely by people of historically marginalized groups.
How are hate crimes and overt conscious expressions of bigotry related to microaggressions?
Answer: Although they may share some similarities, hate crimes are not the same as microaggressions. Hate crimes are violence-based bias perpetrated against targets with the intent to cause harm (often physical) toward people from marginalized groups. They are criminal acts that are illegal and qualitatively and quantitatively different from microaggressions. Hate crimes are usually conducted by perpetrators identified as bigots, White supremacists, or racists. Violence, intimidation, and direct abuse such as physical assaults, lynchings, and destruction of property are examples. Although microaggressions may cause significant harm as well, and can be consciously delivered, they usually come from well-intentioned people who are most likely unaware of their bias. In fact, most people who commit microaggressions would publicly condemn hate crimes. Addressing hate crimes requires legal action, while an educational approach is more likely in microaggressions.
How are microaggressions against LGBTQ individuals different/same as racial microaggressions?
Answer: Some racial microaggressions are similar to heterosexist and transphobic microaggressions; for instance, both LGBTQ people and People of Color can experience situations like being excluded in workplace situations, receiving poor customer service, feeling tokenized or exoticized, or hearing biased jokes or slurs. However, there are some microaggressions that may target people based on their identities differently; for example, same-sex couples may encounter glares of disgust when they show public displays of affection, which heterosexual couples may not experience. Meanwhile, Black Americans may be presumed to be a criminal (e.g., they are followed around in a store or by a police officer), whereas a White LGBTQ person may not have this experience. Further, there are certain environments and situations where microaggressions may be encountered differently. Because some LGBTQ people can often “pass” (e.g., other people presume they are heterosexual or cisgender), they may avoid certain microaggressions; meanwhile, many People of Color may always be conscious of racial microaggressions because their race is something that cannot be hidden. On the contrary, some People of Color may cope better with microaggressions because their parents or families may have socialized them to be aware of race and racism; conversely, LGBTQ people are often the only LGBTQ people in their families and may even experience microaggressions in their own homes. Thus, while microaggressions may manifest differently, they still have harmful impacts on people who experience them.
How do intersecting identities influence the experience of microaggressions?
Answer: Intersectionality refers to an individual facing multiple forms of discrimination and oppression based on overlapping marginalized identities. Much of the work on intersecting identities has been pioneered by African American female scholars in the fields of political science, sociology, law, and more recently psychology. While much of the work on microaggressions to date has explored the manifestation of this phenomenon in relation to singular identity categories (i.e., racial microaggressions and gender microaggressions), emerging work supports the idea that there are distinct categories and themes of microaggressions related specifically to intersectionality. For example, gendered racial microaggressions refer to experiences that communicate discriminatory messages about being female and African American or Asian American (or another racial/ethnic group). These experiences are unique to the intersection of this particular gender and racial group membership and as such cannot be classified as a gender microaggression or a racial microaggression alone. Please see Chapter 4 for a thorough review of this literature.
Aren't some microaggressions really macroaggressions? If not, is there such a thing as a macroaggression?
Answer: Microaggressions and macroaggressions are not the same concepts. There is much confusion concerning the use of the term macroaggression. Some incorrectly use the term to describe the overt and intentionally harmful form of microaggressions, otherwise known as microassualts (#2 above). Chester Pierce is credited with creating the term microaggression and intended for the term micro to convey the everyday, commonplace nature of these interactions. In contrast, the term macroaggression, defined by education scholars Lindsay Pérez Huber and Daniel Solórzano, represents the systemic and institutionalized forms of bias and oppression that impact the lives of entire groups of people. This is most evident in laws and public policies that create systems of oppression and disparities in education, employment, healthcare, and the criminal justice system, to name a few.
Can mascots, media, and offensive symbols like the confederate flag and Klan hood be expressions of microaggressions?
Answer: Yes, microaggressions can be delivered through mascots, media, and offensive symbols. For example, the confederate flag has become a symbol of racism in contemporary culture, thus displaying this flag on one's car, house, or building communicates that the person or organization endorses the tenets of racism. Additionally, mascots for sports teams (e.g., “Redskins”) negatively objectify a group of people (First Nations People). Contemporary removal of statues of individuals that supported racist efforts reflects the acknowledgment of the harmful impact that these statues represent.
Is there such thing as online microaggressions?
Answer: The Internet provides a giant stage upon which one can espouse their political and personal views—all with a guaranteed cloak of anonymity, if they so choose. Therefore, online social media forums, chat groups, blogs, and so forth, are places where blatant forms of discrimination are rampant and evident. A wealth of misinformation on the Internet also contributes to stereotypes and biased views of various social identity groups. Researchers have coined terms such as online racial discrimination, cyber racism, and online hate crimes to describe the more overt forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and the like that take place on the Internet. However, recent investigations support the notion that online material such as visual imagery, memes, and video game content can transmit derogatory, insulting, and invalidating messages about marginalized groups in subtle and covert ways. In addition to these nonverbal manifestations of microaggressions, chat groups and comment walls provide forums for individuals to express invalidating views and statements without an intention of discrimination or hate. For example, a social media post about the recent fatal shooting of an unarmed Black youth by a police officer provokes opinions and sentiments across the nation, all shared on various online platforms. Well-intentioned individuals can respond to these incidents with color-blind statements such as “We are all human beings sharing the same race, and I only wish this hadn't happened” which represent a microinvalidation of the lived racial experience of Black men in America. How one experiences, interprets, and is impacted by statements such as these or by nonverbal material online (as opposed to experiencing them in vivo) represents a new area of study. For more discussion of the manifestation of online microaggressions, please see Chapter 12.
Aren't we priming children to be biased when we teach them about microaggressions?
Answer: Microaggressions and contemporary forms of bias are theorized to be insidious and commonly occurring in part because people in American society are socialized from an early age to not discuss issues of difference and to espouse egalitarian ideologies. This creates a false social dynamic where people are quick to dismiss prejudicial beliefs as the main precipitant behind a microaggressive encounter. Further, when people are unaware of the microaggression framework and issues of privilege and oppression, they lack the language to describe and make sense of the microaggressions they encounter across the lifespan. Research indicates that the microaggression framework helps people, including children, make sense of microaggressive encounters and the related impacts. Chapter 17 (Kohli, Arteaga, & McGovern) articulates the dynamic of microaggressions for children and teenagers in K-12 education. These scholars provide strategies for addressing microaggressions in K-12 education and suggest that the first step is having the ability to identify the microaggressive experience, which requires knowledge of the microaggression framework. Additionally, having knowledge of the microaggression framework can help young people avoid internalizing microaggressive messages, which can moderate the negative impact microaggressions have on a number of well-being and life-success outcomes.
Aren't microaggressions harmless, trivial, and simply small slights? Why make such a big thing out of them?
Answer: Far from being benign and insignificant, microaggression research indicates they take a heavy psychological and physical toll on targets. They have been found to be different than the everyday incivilities that anyone can experience regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation/identity. Experiencing an insult from a rude clerk that is nonrace based, for example, may bring about feelings of anger or agitation, but when the incident ends it is over. Racial microaggressions, however, have an impact that is both quantitatively and qualitatively different. For targets, microaggressions are continual, never-ending, and cumulative in nature. Marginalized group members experience them from the time they awake until they go to sleep. They experience them from the moment of birth until they die. As a result, People of Color are under constant race-related stress that requires constant vigilance and psychological arousal. It would be a monumental mistake to dismiss microaggressions as only “small slights” that have minimal harmful impact.
With all the talk about microaggressions, I'm afraid to say anything at all about race or differences? Doesn't microaggression theory stifle free speech?
Answer: Should people shy away from these conversations, for fear of offending someone? The reality is that any discussion of worldviews is likely to offend someone, and we do not all need to agree. We just need to be respectful of each other's lived experience and be flexible in our thinking. When someone is offended by a statement, belief, or action based on their identity, the most productive way to address this is through engaging discourse between the two groups. Microaggression opponents argue that Republican, Christian, and conservative ideas in particular have been shut down and stifled. They argue that social justice warriors (SJWs) are attacking these perspectives and punishing those who hold these views. In reality, these viewpoints tend to cause multiple groups to feel marginalized. For example, opposing abortion and gay marriage will alienate some women and men. If you hold these views, prepare to hear their effects on others. They cause others to feel angry, terrified, sad, and so forth. A healthy dialogue allows both perspectives to co-exist, no matter how difficult, tense, and heavy that conversation may be. The reality is that it is easier to stay silent or assign blame than it is to sit with the complexity of emotions that arise when microaggressions are named and processed by all parties.
Dominant group members aren't the only ones with biases, stereotypes, and prejudices. People of Color, for example, do as well. Why are we always accusing Whites as the only group that commits microaggressions? Can't People of Color commit microaggressions against one another?
Answer: It is true that people of all groups may have biases, stereotypes, and prejudices toward other people; in fact, studies on implicit biases support that people of all groups may have particular preferences toward different groups based on race, gender, skin color, size, and so forth. Because of these biases, people of any group may mistreat others based on their identities. However, we tend to concentrate on microaggressions committed by people of historically privileged groups (e.g., White people, men, and heterosexual people) because such interactions are reflective of power and systemic oppression. From a young age, children are socialized to believe that the experiences of historically privileged groups are normalized (i.e., American standards of beauty, cultural values, styles of communication are all based on White, male, heteronormative, and upper-class perspectives). Thus, when people of historically marginalized groups experience microaggressions, the incident may have a more negative impact because they are reminders of their lack of power and privilege. For example, when a White man makes demeaning comments about a Woman of Color, the interaction is a manifestation of the systemic racism and sexism that prevent Women of Color from succeeding. In fact, a Woman of Color who hears such a comment may feel retraumatized from the multiple amounts of times that she has been demeaned in the past due to her race and gender. Conversely, if a Woman of Color makes a demeaning comment about a White man and hurts his feelings, he is still part of a group that has the most systemic power in this country (e.g., White men make the most money, hold most government positions). He is likely to have experienced such instances in his life, so the comment may be viewed as an isolated event and may not have a lasting effect on his mental health.
Because of systemic oppression and stereotyped messages that people learn about different groups, People of Color can also commit microaggressions against each other. For instance, when an Asian American commits a criminality microaggression toward a Black American (e.g., follows a Black person in a store, holds her purse closer to her when a Black man enters an elevator), the microaggression may be retraumatizing due to the anti-Black racism that many Black people experience by Asian Americans. In some ways, the interaction may be even more hurtful because they presume that the Asian American should be more aware of racism (whereas they may expect such microaggressions from White Americans). Similarly, if an Asian American man encounters an emasculating microaggression from a Black or Latino man (e.g., someone says that Asian men are feminine or have small penises), he may feel retraumatized from past similar microaggressions. He may also feel more hurt because he presumes that another Man of Color would be more sensitive or aware of the harmful impact of stereotypes.
Can microaggressions affect problem solving and learning?
Answer: Yes, microaggressions can negatively impact one's ability to concentrate, to solve problems, and to learn new material. Studies suggest that hostile racial climates perpetuated through microaggressions on college campuses disrupt students' ability to concentrate and to participate in class discussions. Such disruption inhibits students' ability to learn new material. Moreover, experiencing microaggressions in the classroom has been linked to feelings of invisibility, isolation, and self-doubt, all of which impair one's ability to focus on tasks and solve problems in the classroom.
How do microaggressions affect work productivity?
Answer: Workplace microaggressions affect work productivity in several ways. Types of microaggressions experienced in workplace settings include lack of representation of one's own group, invisibility, invalidation of one's individual experience, and exclusion from social events. Collectively, these types of microaggressions can lead to high rates of depression, isolation, and absenteeism in the workplace. Perceptions (often misperceptions) of worker attitudes and behavior by supervisors can lead to reprimanding and negative performance plan evaluations. These outcomes can detrimentally impact salary increases and promotion. Moreover, microaggressions can lead to turnover and dismissal.
Can microaggressions impact mental and physical well-being?
Answer: Yes, a decade of research has found that microaggressions have negative impacts on mental and physical health. In fact, numerous assessments and measures have been created to examine the microaggressions experienced by People of Color, women, and LGBTQ people. Results from those studies find that a higher cumulative amount of microaggressions negatively impacts symptoms related to depression, anxiety, and trauma; behavioral health issues like alcohol use and eating disorders; and psychological constructs such as self-esteem, worldview, and academic achievement. Recent, correlational studies have also found that microaggressions have negative health consequences—including pain, fatigue, physical functioning, and perceptions of general health.
How do microaggressions impact people with privileged identities, such as in White people?
Answer: Everyone in society is negatively impacted by the prejudicial ideologies that give life to systems of privilege and oppression, and that impact individual institutional functioning. Although the impact of microaggressions is qualitatively and quantitatively different for those in oppressed and privileged social locations, the costs to those with privileged identities are most often overlooked. However, it is necessary to consider and understand how those with more privileged identities are both positively and negatively impacted by microaggressions. In Chapter 9, Clark and Spanierman delineate the psychosocial costs of microaggressions to White people. These scholars suggest that people who benefit from a system of privilege and oppression have a skewed perception of social reality and are often unaware of the role they play in maintaining their privilege at the social and economic expense of the oppressed. The associated impacts include a wide range of cognitive, affective, behavioral, moral, and spiritual costs. For example, the false sense of social reality can lead to a denial of individual bias and an overreliance on an egalitarian worldview whereby the privileged extend cognitive effort to appear nonbiased. The emotional and behavioral costs can include fear fueled by stereotype that leads to avoiding interpersonal interaction with those from different racial and social identity groups. These costs can run very deep and influence moral development where the privileged develop a loss of humanity and respect for basic human rights in order to maintain the benefits associated with their privilege.
What can educational institutions do to address microaggressions on campus?
Answer: When universities and other educational institutions commit to understanding and addressing microaggressions at the systemic level, they are likely to engender real and enduring change on their campuses. Just as scholars have discussed the inherent flaws in a one-course approach to understanding diversity and multiculturalism in a curriculum, singular approaches toward addressing microaggressions (such as a single workshop on the topic for faculty, or a one day discussion in a classroom based on a checklist of experiences) will be superficial and potentially lead to a greater misunderstanding and division between groups. Therefore, providing multiple educative offerings across a variety of campus opportunities is paramount in an authentic effort to eradicate microaggressions.
Microaggressions can be described and understood academically and intellectually through discussions of subtle forms of discrimination and related theories, but there will also always be an emotional processing aspect to this work that does not always feel natural in classrooms and other spaces within academic institutions. Providing a range of educative offerings that allow for the exploration of microaggression experience on campus from both an intellectual and emotional point of view will strengthen community and build pathways to change. Therefore, workshop series, summits, continuous learning, and professional development opportunities that seek to expand awareness on how different groups of people experience the campus environment and university at-large will benefit the overall institutional climate. Moreover, offering these programs to all members of the campus community (from staff to students to professors and deans) is crucial. For a detailed exploration of systemic practices that reduce microaggressions on campus, please see Chapter 18.
What can I do to address and prevent microaggressions?
Answer: People can help to address and prevent microaggressions interpersonally, institutionally, and systemically. While this book will provide a comprehensive review of how to do so, previous scholars have identified both small and large ways to do so. As a smaller example, parents may engage in the process of racial socialization—or teaching their children about the realities of racism and systemic oppression in age-appropriate ways. When young people are socialized from a younger age to understand systems and injustices, they are more likely to be comfortable in talking about differences and are more likely to cope with discrimination. For People of Color, racial socialization influences one's ability to succeed academically. Thus, talking about issues related to race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, religion, and other identities may assist children in being more comfortable in recognizing systemic oppression, which may help them to address such issues when they are adults.
An example of a larger-scale way to address microaggressions is to advocate for systemic policies that educate constituents on microaggressions—which can potentially change cultures that are often biased, discriminatory, or noninclusive. For instance, leaders in educational institutions can introduce students to curriculum on microaggressions, group dynamics, and intercultural communication. Teachers can reevaluate how curriculum may be culturally biased and may advocate for changes accordingly. Students may also vocalize their disdain with any injustices they notice in their school policies or cultures. While you will find several other recommendations for how to address microaggressions throughout the book, we acknowledge that there are so many different cultural and historical dynamics that may prevent someone from being able to address microaggressions in any group or environment. However, we hope that readers will be able to find ways to consider and integrate these recommendations however possible.
Can an organization or a workplace do anything to prevent and address microaggressions?
Answer: Yes, they can. One of the best ways to prevent and address microaggressions in the workplace is through diversity training initiatives. It is recommended that these initiatives include training methods to enhance awareness of biases. For example, one way this can be accomplished is by implementing trainings that include the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a computer-based test that measures reaction times to pairings (e.g., images of White and Black individuals with the words good and bad). Reaction time to these pairings indicates the preferences or biases of the individual taking the test. Other interventions include dedicating resources to increasing workplace awareness of microaggressions and having regular discussions of the impact of microaggressions on management decisions and employee performance. Moreover, workplaces can mitigate the adverse effects of microaggressions through leadership and manager accountability, mentorship, and employee resource groups and recruitment of racially and culturally diverse staff members.
How can people cope or deal with microaggressions? What can White allies or bystanders do to stem the expression of microaggressions?
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