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Microaggression is the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression; the term was coined by Chester M. Pierce in 1970. Micro-inequities and microaffirmations were additionally named by Mary Rowe of MIT in 1973, in her work she also describes micro-aggressions inclusive of sex and gender. Sue et al. (2007) describe microaggressions as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
Microagression usually involves demeaning implications and other subtle insults against minorities, and may be perpetrated against those due to gender, sexual orientation, and ability status. According to Pierce, “the chief vehicle for proracist behaviors are microaggressions. These are subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put-downs’ of blacks by offenders”. Microaggressions may also play a role in unfairness in the legal system as they can influence the decisions of juries.
Sue et al. (2007) have expanded on the term microaggression by introducing four distinct forms of microaggression in the context of racial microaggression.
|Microassault||An explicit racial derogation characterized primarily by verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discriminatory actions.|
|Microinsult||Characterized by communications that convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity.|
|Microinvalidation||Characterized by communications that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person.|
Gender microassaults can be described as overt sexism: "being called a sexist name, a man refusing to wash dishes because it is 'woman's work,' displaying nude pin-ups of women at places of employment, someone making unwanted sexual advances toward another person." Gender microinsults and microinvalidations can be less apparent.
Microaggressable themes have been identified through research and scholarly reviews (Sue, 2010):
Microaggressions can take a number of different forms, for example, questioning the existence of racial-cultural issues, making stereotypic assumptions, and cultural insensitivity. Some other types of microaggressions that have been identified include Colorblindness (e.g., "I don't think of you as Black. You are just a normal person"), Denial of personal bias (e.g., "I'm not homophobic; I even have gay friends."), and Minimization of racial-cultural issues (e.g., "Just because you feel alone in this group doesn't mean that there's a racial issue involved."). "Colorblindness" in particular has been associated with higher levels of racism and lower levels of empathy.
The concept of racial microaggressions is one of the relative new contributions of Social Psychology to the understanding of factors that influence intergroup relations. Commonplace, public experiences or situations such as being stopped for a check-up at an airport, being ignored by a waiter/waitress at a restaurant or being assigned to a particular task by an employer, might seem irrelevant or innocuous situations under most circumstances. However, when such situations are interpreted as being linked to racial differences, they become distinct, and take on a different connotation. As a result, people subjected to them (racial minorities) may experience emotional pain or other negative feelings.
Supporters of the theory argue that racial microaggressions are reported to be common, including among people who think of themselves as being fair and nonracist, and who have received multicultural training.
According to P.C. Davis (1989), microaggression is enabled because “cognitive habit, history, and culture [has left it] unable to hear the range of relevant voices and grapple with what reasonably might be said in the voice of discrimination’s victims”.
Recent studies show that a wide variety of people in the United States report experience with racial microaggressions, including Latino American, African American, and Asian American people. Racial microaggressions are not limited by class or circumstance, and can be experienced by successful, upper-middle class professionals. Focus group based research with African American students at universities has also revealed that racial microaggressions exist in both academic and social spaces in the collegiate environment. College students report that they experience racial microaggressions in their relationships with their college counselors, in classrooms, and in other training relationships.
People have expressed several ways in which they feel harmed by racial microaggressions, such as implied messages that may make them feel demeaned. Implied messages can range from example like, “You do not belong,” “You are abnormal,” “You are intellectually inferior,” “You cannot be trusted,” and, “You are all the same.” Recipients of these messages have also reported feeling other negative consequences, including powerlessness, invisibility, pressure to comply, loss of integrity, and pressure to represent one’s group.
Some strategies have been identified to help in the difficult classroom discussions that are sometimes triggered by microaggressions. For example, students[who?] report that they do not want to be looked to as experts on race-related topics, and that they feel hindered in discussions in which others are overly worried about being perceived as being racist.
Other subtle types of oppression include institutional oppression and subtle decision-making biases.