Microaggression is a theory that hypothesizes 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 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.”
The theory of microagression usually revolves around perceived demeaning implications and other subtle insults against other humans, 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”. It is further postulated that microaggressions may also play a role in unfairness in the legal system as they can influence the decisions of juries.
The theory of gender microassaults concerns what can best 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.
The following have been proposed as "microaggressable" themes (Sue, 2010):
It is hypothesized that 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 relatively new theories of Social Psychology that purport to contribute 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 who perceive themselves as being subjected to them 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, if it exists, 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.
^Pierce, C. M., Carew, J. V., Pierce-Gonzalez & Wills, D. (1977). An Experiment in Racism: TV Commercials. Education and Urban Society, 10(1), 61–87.
^Sue, Derald Wing; Capodilupo, Christina M.; Torino, Gina C.; Bucceri, Jennifer M.; Holder, Aisha M. B.; Nadal, Kevin L.; Esquilin, Marta. Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice. American Psychologist, v62 n4 p271-286 May-Jun 2007.
^Pierce, Chester M; Carew, J; Pierce-Gonzalez, D; Willis, D (1978). "An experiment in racism: TV commercials". Television and Education. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. pp. 62–88. ISBN0-8039-1028-2.
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^Sue, DW; Capodilupo, CM; Torino; Bucceri, JM; Holder, AMB; Nadal, KL; Esquilin (2007), p. 274Missing or empty |title= (help)
^Pierce, C. M., Carew, J. V., Pierce-Gonzalez & Wills, D. (1977). An Expert in racism: TV commercials. Education and Urban Society, 10(1), 65
^Law As Microaggression Peggy C. Davis The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 98, No. 8, Symposium: Popular Legal Culture (Jun., 1989), pp. 1559-1577
^Wing, D.W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: race, gender, and sexual orientation. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc., p. 169.
^Perceptions of Racial Microaggressions among Black Supervisees in Cross-Racial Dyads Constantine, Madonna G.; Sue, Derald Wing. Journal Counseling Psychology, v54 n2 p142-153 Apr 2007
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^ abSue, D., Lin, A.I., Torino, G.C. Capodilupo, C.M., & Rivera, D.P. (2009). Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15, 183-190.
^ abConstantine, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions against African American clients in cross-racial counseling relationships. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54, 1-16.
^ abConstantine, M., & Sue, D. (2007). Perceptions of racial microaggressions among black supervisees in cross-racial dyads. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54,142-153.
^Constantine, M., Smith, L. Redington, R.M. & Owens, D. (2008). Racial microaggressions against black counseling and counseling psychology faculty: A central challenge in the multicultural counseling movement. Journal of Counseling and Development, 86, 348-355.
^Sue, D., Bucceri, J., Lin, A.I., Nadal, K.L., & Torino, G.C. (2009). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American Experience. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 1, 88-101.
^Wang, J., Leu, J., & Shoda, Y. (2011). When the seemingly innocuous "stings": Racial microaggressions and their emotional consequences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(12), 1666-1678.
^Constantine, M., Smith, L. Redington, R.M. & Owens, D. (2008). Racial microaggressions against black counseling and counseling psychology faculty: A central challenge in the multicultural counseling movement. Journal of Counseling and Development, 86, 348-35 5.
^Sue, D., Lin, A.I., Torino, G.C. Capodilupo, C.M., & Rivera, D.P. (2008). Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15, 183-190.
^ abSue, D., Capodilupo, C.M., & Holder, A.M.B. (2008). Racial microaggressions in the life experience of black Americans. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39, 329-336.