Blog post by Tanya Scuccimarra, GSCI
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines microaggressions as everyday slights, invalidations, and belittlements often targeting minority or marginalized groups. We can think of minority and marginalized groups as any ethnic, racial, religious, or social subdivision that is considered subordinate to the dominant group. The dominant group is often in the majority and holds the most power, social status, and privilege within any given society. Therefore, the dominant group defines what is socially and economically valuable and desired. Some of the minority or marginalized groups represented in the United States are comprised of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous folks, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Microaggression was coined in the 1970s by Chester M. Pierce, MD (1927-2016), an African-American psychiatrist and professor of education and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Pierce proposed the concept of racial microaggressions to define the demeaning, often subtle insults hurled against minorities. Dr. Pierce put language to the subtle insults and often nonverbal put-downs of Black and African-American individuals and communities. Dr. Pierce exposed how racial-microaggressions thinly concealed explicit racism and caused harm—mentally, emotionally, socially, physically, economically, politically, legally, educationally, and medically—to Black and African-American communities.
Microaggressions can take place in any environmental setting in the form of back-handed comments or dismissive behaviors. These insulting exchanges are commonplace and whether intentional or unintentional, the derogatory slights are intended to harm the target person or group. Microaggressions restrict individuals and groups from obtaining upward mobility and can block access to basic necessities like housing, food, health insurance, gainful employment, and educational opportunities. Psychologists have since expanded on microaggressions to include not only race, but gender, and sexual orientation.
The mental health field recognizes that microaggressions are linked to depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-esteem, and feeling dismissed and invisible to society. Seeking support and reaching out to a therapist is a healthy first step in gaining a deeper understanding of microaggressions and the impact on mental health.
While one post cannot possibly convey the complexities of microaggressions, I want to leave the reader with a brief description of three of the most common microaggressions:
- Micro-assaults: an explicit racial derogation; verbal/nonverbal; e.g. name-calling, avoidant behavior, purposeful discriminatory actions.
- Micro-insults: communications that convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person's racial heritage or identity; subtle snubs; unknown to the perpetrator; hidden insulting message to the recipient.
- Micro-invalidations: communications that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person belonging to a particular group.
- Sexual objectification
- Second-class citizenship
- Use of sexist language
- Assumption of inferiority
- Restrictive gender roles
- Denial of the reality of sexism
- Denial of individual sexism
- Sexist humor/jokes
- Environmental invalidations: macrolevel aggressions that happen on systemic and environmental level (unequal pay; glass ceiling; media images)
Sexual Orientation Microaggressions:
- The automatic assumption that individuals are heterosexual or “straight”
- The automatic assumption that married or partnered individuals are in heteronormative/heterosexual relationships
- Curating academic courses centering the heteronormative experience
- Dismissing LGBTQ+ history and/or leaving it out altogether in school textbooks
- Using derogatory, disparaging, and inflammatory language towards any member of the LGBTQ+ community (“That’s so gay”, “No homo”, “tranny”, “she-male”, “faggot”, “dyke”)
- Harassment and bullying based on an individual’s implied or explicit sexual orientation
- Biases in workplaces, schools, institutions, clubs, and social settings that impact LGBTQ+ individuals
- Using “Discomfort” or “Disapproval” of LGBTQ+ individuals as a catalyst for discrimination
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DeAngelis, T. (2009, February). Unmasking 'racial microaggressions'. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/20...
Gehrman, E. (2019, December 12). Microaggressions and their role in mental illness. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazet...
Griffith, E. E. (2016, October 28). Chester Middlebrook Pierce, M.D.: A Life That Mattered. Retrieved from https://psychnews.psychiatryon...
Lui, P. P., & Quezada, L. (2019, April 10). Microaggressions: What They Are, And How They Are Associated With Adjustment Outcomes. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/highl...
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National Science Foundation (Ed.). (n.d.). Making the Invisible Visible: Gender Microaggressions. Retrieved from https://www.unh.edu/sites/defa...
Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.roll...
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