“Microaggressions: Death by a Thousand Cuts”

Dr. Derald Wing Sue, who is the son of parents who emigrated from China and is a professor of psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, writes about microaggressions in Scientific American.

My research and work on what we call “racial microaggressions” began through a series of lifelong experiences and observations of interpersonal racial encounters. For example, I am a second-generation Asian American, born and raised in the U.S. Yet despite that fact, I receive constant compliments for speaking “good” English. On crowded New York City subway trains, with all seats taken, I noticed that there would always be an empty one next to a Black passenger. These examples and countless other incidents are racial microaggressions.

Microaggressions are the everyday slights, insults, put-downs, invalidations and offensive behaviors that people of marginalized groups experience in daily interactions with generally well-intentioned people who may be unaware of their impact. Microaggressions are reflections of implicit bias or prejudicial beliefs and attitudes beyond the level of conscious awareness. Social psychologists have studied implicit bias for decades, along with the role it plays in human behavior. Almost any marginalized group can be the object of microaggressions. There are racial, gender, LGBTQ and disability microaggressions that occur daily toward these groups.

Most individuals who commit microaggressions view themselves as moral and decent human beings who never would consciously discriminate against another person. Yet it is important to acknowledge that none of us is immune from inheriting the racial, gender or sexual orientation biases of our society. Let us return to the two opening examples to understand more fully the manifestation, dynamics and impact of microaggressions.

Like Dr. Sue, most of my encounters in education and in academia make me feel as if I am a perpetual foreigner. No matter what I do I am always made to feel as if I am an outcast. One of the reasons I started writing is that it was a way to escape being me, and I could just be words in some order.

They just cannot help it. And they won’t get it.

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Nadia Ahmad

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