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Microaggressions, Marginality, and Harmful Impact


A friendly neighbor wished a Jewish mother “Merry Christmas.”

(Hidden message: Everyone is Christian.)

While a customer was bargaining over the price of an item, the store owner commented “Don’t try to Jew me down.” (Hidden message: Jews are stingy.)

Countless examples of microaggressions are delivered daily without the awareness of perpetrators. And while these actions may appear harmless or innocent in nature, they are nevertheless detrimental to recipients because they result in harmful psychological consequences and create disparities. Microaggressions sap the spiritual energies of recipients (Pierce, 1995), lead to low self-esteem (Franklin, 2004), and deplete or divert energy for adaptive functioning and problem solving (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2000). The following adapted passage, for example, indicates how microaggressions affect Don Locke, an African American.

I am tired of —

Watching mediocre White people continue to rise to positions of authority and responsibility.

Wondering if the White woman who quickly exited the elevator when I got on was really at her destination.

Being told I do not sound Black.

Being told by White people that they “don’t see color” when they interact with me.

The deadening silence that occurs when the conversation turns to race. Having to explain why I wish to be called “African American.” Wondering if things will get better. Wondering if the taxi driver really did not see me trying to hail a ride.

Being told that I should not criticize racially segregated country clubs because I wouldn’t enjoy associating with people who belong to them anyway.

Being followed in department stores by the security force and pestered by sales clerks who refuse to allow me to browse because they suspect I am a shoplifter.

Never being able to let my racial guard down.

Listening to reports about people of color who failed as justification for the absence of other people of color in positions of authority.

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