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Racial Microaggressions


Any one microaggression alone may be minimally impactful, but when they occur continuously throughout a lifespan, their cumulative nature can have major detrimental consequences (Holmes & Holmes, 1970; Holmes & Rahe, 1967; Meyer, 1995, 2003; Utsey, Giesbrecht, Hook, & Stanard, 2008; Utsey & Ponterotto, 1999). Many Whites, for example, fail to realize that people of color from the moment of birth are subjected to multiple racial microaggressions from the media, peers, neighbors, friends, teachers, and even in the educational process and/or curriculum itself. These insults and indig- nities are so pervasive that they are often unrecognized. Let’s discuss the two case vignettes that open this chapter in terms of the origin, manifestation, and impact of microaggressions on two sociodemographic dimensions: race and gender.


Racism may be defined as any attitude, action, institutional structure, or social policy that subordinates persons or groups because of their color (Jones, 1997; Ponterotto, Utsey, & Pederson, 2006). The subordination of people of color is manifested in inferior housing, education, employment, and health services (Sue, 2003). The complex manifestation of racism can occur at three different levels: individual, institutional, and cultural (Jones, 1997).

Individual racism is best known to the American public as overt, conscious, and deliberate individual acts intended to harm, place at a disadvantage, or discriminate against racial minorities. Serving Black patrons last, using racial epithets, preventing a White son or daughter from dating or marrying a person of color, or not showing clients of color housing in affluent White neighborhoods are all examples. At the other end of the spectrum, hate crimes against people of color and other marginalized groups represent extreme forms of overt individual racism. In two incidents occurring in 1998, Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was tortured and murdered because he was a homosexual, and James Byrd was killed by being beaten, chained, and dragged naked behind a pick-up truck until beheaded, solely because he was Black.

Institutional racism is any policy, practice, procedure, or structure in busi- ness, industry, government, courts, churches, municipalities, schools, and so forth, by which decisions and actions are made that unfairly subordinate persons of color while allowing other groups to profit from the outcomes. Examples of

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