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Description: Recent events have intensified attention to issues of racial inequity and racism. In addition to helping people to understand the foundations of how racism is established and carried forward, Psychology can help people see and understand the many ways in which bias and racist assumptions can enter and shape day-to-day social interactions. Have you heard the term microaggression? How would you define it and how would you feel/react if it was suggested that you had just engaged in a microaggression? Before you read the article linked below that discusses the history of the term and recent research into how microaggressions play out at the individual level think about this; what might it mean that we can see racism in or behind the social actions and statements of people who deny that they are racist and who believe they are not lying? What might your answer to that question suggest about the psychology of racism?

Source: Microaggressions aren’t just innocent blunders – new research links them with racial bias, Jonathan Kanter, The Conversation.

Date: September 24, 2020

Photo Credit:  Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Article Link:

Like implicit racial bias, research on microaggressions maps out connections between individual social behavior and racist assumptions, biases, and even consciously held racial prejudices. Social Psychological theory and research details how our social behaviors are shaped not just by our personal social experience histories but also by our indirect social experiences which may have included aspects of systemic racism. If we assume that individuals are consciously aware of and mean every single thing they say then microaggressions are “tells” that can be used to “out” racist individuals. While they CAN work that way, they can also point out ways or areas where the patterns of individuals’ experiences have led them to hold biases or assumptions that are basically racist. Recent pushes, for example, to significantly increase the existence and breadth of exposure to the history of Indigenous experiences with residential schools, cross racial adoptions, and transgenerational trauma at all levels within the educational system are ways of changing the raw social materials that people draw upon when building the social-cognitive structures that will shape their expectations, biases and assumptions. Understanding the connections between systematically racist socio-political histories, individual assumptions and biases and microaggressions help everyone to see more clearly how they can move themselves and help other move towards racial equality and simple acceptance of diversity.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What sorts of social behaviors or statements might be called microaggressions?
  2. How might it be that someone who engages in a microaggression might strongly believe they are not racist?
  3. How might we understand the relationship between systemic racism and individual social behavior and what are the implications of that relationship for working to eliminate racism and increase basic acceptance of and respect for racial diversity?

References (Read Further):

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American psychologist, 62(4), 271. Link

Lui, P. P., & Quezada, L. (2019). Associations between microaggression and adjustment outcomes: A meta-analytic and narrative review. Psychological bulletin, 145(1), 45. Link

Kanter, J. W., Williams, M. T., Kuczynski, A. M., Corey, M. D., Parigoris, R. M., Carey, C. M., … & Rosen, D. C. (2020). The Measurement and Structure of Microaggressive Communications by White People Against Black People. Race and Social Problems, 1-21.

Kanter, J. W., Williams, M. T., Kuczynski, A. M., Manbeck, K. E., Debreaux, M., & Rosen, D. C. (2017). A preliminary report on the relationship between microaggressions against Black people and racism among White college students. Race and Social Problems, 9(4), 291-299. Link

Edwards, J. F. (2017). Color-blind racial attitudes: Microaggressions in the context of racism and White privilege. Administrative Issues Journal, 7(1), 2. Link

Pérez Huber, L., & Solorzano, D. G. (2015). Racial microaggressions as a tool for critical race research. Race Ethnicity and Education, 18(3), 297-320. Link

Clark, D. A., Kleiman, S., Spanierman, L. B., Isaac, P., & Poolokasingham, G. (2014). “Do you live in a teepee?” Aboriginal students’ experiences with racial microaggressions in Canada. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(2), 112. Link

Bailey, K. A. (2016). Racism within the Canadian university: Indigenous students’ experiences. Ethnic and Racial studies, 39(7), 1261-1279. Link

Racism, Bias, and Discrimination Resources, American Psychological Association Link