racial, gender, and sexual-orientation microaggressions
First, it was obvious that the elderly woman believed that there was something bad or wrong with being an Arab. Equating mistrust with a person’s nationality or religion, especially being Muslim or of Middle Eastern herit- age, has resurged since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Similarly, during World War II Japanese Americans were interned because they were suspected as
being more loyal to Japan, a threat to national security, and potential spies. Throughout history and to the present time, people of color continue to evoke fears and biases in White people who view them as potential criminals, less trustworthy, and undesirable (Feagin, 2001; Jones, 1997; Sue, 2003).
Second, McCain’s denial that Obama was an Arab, and rather that he was a “decent family man,” seems to indicate that, at some level, he too has bought into the perception that Middle Easterners and Muslims were somewhat less than decent human beings.
Third, the hidden message of this microaggression (communicated by the woman and probably shared at an unconscious level by McCain) was that Arabs cannot be trusted because they are potential terrorists. Being a Middle Easterner was akin to being a potential threat to national security, and to the safety of “true Americans.”
Last, the question we ask is this: “Can’t Middle Eastern men be good, moral, and decent family men as well?” According to former Secretary of Defense Collin Powell, who appeared on a Sunday news program following the televised exchange, the more appropriate response would have been: “No ma’am, he’s not an Arab. But what would be wrong if he were?”
Critics have accused researchers of exaggerating the detrimental impact of microaggressions by making a “mountain out of a molehill” (Schacht, 2008; Thomas, 2008). After all, the example given above may seem minor and trivial. What great harm was done? This is certainly a worthwhile question to ask. As we will shortly see, microaggressions are constant and continuing expe- riences of marginalized groups in our society; they assail the self-esteem of recipients, produce anger and frustration, deplete psychic energ , lower feelings of subjective well-being and worthiness, produce physical health problems, shorten life expectancy, and deny minority populations equal access and opportunity in education, employment, and health care (Brondolo et al., 2008; Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999; Franklin, 1999; King, 2005; Noh & Kaspar, 2003; Smedley & Smedley, 2005; Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Sue, Capodilupo, & Holder, 2008; Wei, Ku, Russell, Mallinckrodt, & Liao, 2008; Williams, Neighbors, & Jackson, 2003; Yoo & Lee, 2008).