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Microaggressions, Marginality, and Harmful Impact


ultimate indignity and insult. Showing reluctance at stepping out of his home as requested by Crowley may have evoked images of the shoot- ing of Amadou Diallo, a Black man. In that event, police officers rushed toward an entryway to question a man whom they believed to be acting suspiciously. When Diallo reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, he was shot and killed because the officers thought he was reach- ing for a weapon. Even if unstated, Gates’s belief that he was viewed more suspiciously than a White resident would not be unfounded or without merit. Yet Sergeant Crowley probably believed that he acted within legal guidelines, that his actions were free of racial bias, and that he was not racially profiling. His racial reality and the inability to under- stand that of people of color are major barriers to racial harmony.

  • The Henry Louis Gates, Jr., incident does represent an opportunity to open a dialogue about race in the United States. As some have said, it represents a teachable moment. How do we begin to understand the racial realities of one another? The fact that many White Americans are unable to bridge their worldviews with those of people of color represents a major challenge to our society. The subtext to this inci- dent involves the observation that a national dialogue on race is much needed, but it brings on so many fears, defenses, and antagonisms that even President Obama retreated from taking it on. As long as microaggressions remain hidden, invisible, unspoken, and

excused as innocent slights with minimal harm, we will continue to insult, demean, alienate, and oppress marginalized groups. In the realm of racial microaggressions, for example, studies indicate that

  • Racial microaggressions are oftentimes triggers to difficult dialogues on race in the classroom (Sue, Lin, Torino, et al., 2009).

  • White students and professors are confused and uncertain about what is transpiring (Sue, Torino, Capodilupo, Rivera, & Lin, 2009).

  • White students and professors are very “hung up” about clarifying these racial interactions for fear of appearing racist (Apfelbaum, Sommers, & Norton, 2008).

When critical consciousness and awareness is lacking, when one is fearful about clarifying the meaning of tension-filled interactions, and when one actively avoids pursuing an understanding of these dynamics, the offenses remain invisible (Goodman, 1995; Henry, Cobbs-Roberts, Dorn,


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