Topic 2 Racial microaggressions

Simply stated, racial microaggressions are brief everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of colour because they belong to a racial minority group. These exchanges are so pervasive and automatic in daily interactions that they are often dismissed and glossed over as being innocuous.

One of the most important scholarly papers on the topic of microagressions is “Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice” published in 2007. The authors of this study in the journal American Psychologist noted that “Perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial/ethnic minorities.”

Reading resource

“Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice”

Examples of racial microaggressions

Theme Microaggression Message
Alien in own land When Asian Americans and Latino Americans are assumed to be foreign-born
Where are you from?” “Where were you born?” “You speak good English.” A person asking an Asian American to teach them words in their native language
You are not American You are a foreigner
Description of Intelligence Assigning intelligence to a person of colour on the basis of their race.
“You are a credit to your race.” “You are so articulate.” Asking an Asian person to help with a Maths or Science problem.
eople of colour are generally not as intelligent as whites. It is unusual for someone of your race to be intelligent. All Asians are intelligent and good in Maths / Sciences
Denial of individual racism - A statement made when whites deny their racial biases
“I’m not a racist. I have several black friends.” “As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.”
I am immune to races because I have friends of colour. Your racial oppression is no different from my gender oppression. I can’t be a racist. I’m like you.

Reading resource

Other examples

Reading resource

Racial Microaggressions and the Asian American Experience (click on the book to read the article)

Racial microaggressions were examined through a focus group analysis of 10 self-identified Asian American participants using a semistructured interview and brief demographic questionnaire.

Results identified 8 major microaggressive themes directed toward this group:

(a)alien in own land, (b) ascription of intelligence, (c) exoticisation of Asian women, (d) invalidation of inter-ethnic differences, (e) denial of racial reality, (f) pathologising cultural values/communication styles, (g) second class citizenship, and (h) invisibility.

A ninth category, “undeveloped incidents/responses” was used to categorize microaggressions that were mentioned by only a few members. There were strong indications that the types of subtle racism directed at Asian Americans may be qualitatively and quantitatively different from other marginalised groups.

Source: Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels