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Racial Microaggressions


racism (Sears, 1988), modern racism (McConahay, 1986), implicit racism (Banaji, Hardin, & Rothman, 1993), and aversive racism (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1996).

Aversive racism is closely related to the concept of racial microaggressions. Dovidio and Gaertner (1996) believe that most White people experience themselves as good, moral, and decent human beings who would never inten- tionally discriminate against others on the basis of race. Their studies reveal, however, that it is difficult for anyone born and raised in the United States to be immune from inheriting racial biases. In fact, many Whites who may be classified as well-educated liberals appear to be aversive racists. Aversive racists truly believe they are nonprejudiced, espouse egalitarian values, and would never consciously discriminate, but they, nevertheless, harbor uncon- scious biased attitudes that may result in discriminatory actions. Dovidio & Gaertner (1991, 1993, 1996, 2000) have produced many studies in support of this conclusion

Racial microaggressions are most similar to aversive racism in that they generally occur below the level of awareness of well-intentioned people (Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007; Sue & Capodilupo, 2008), but researchers of micro- aggressions focus primarily on describing the dynamic interplay between perpetrator and recipient, classifying everyday manifestations, deconstructing hidden messages, and exploring internal (psychological) and external (dispari- ties in education, employment, and health care) consequences. Let us return to our opening chapter example to illustrate the dynamic interplay of racial microaggressions between the professor and the Black students.

The Black students in the class suffered a series of racial microaggressions that were unconsciously and unintentionally delivered by Professor Richardson. Rather than thinking he was insulting or invalidating students of color, the professor believed he was teaching the “real” history of psychology, teaching students to think and communicate in an objective fashion, and giving praise to a Black student. While that might have been his conscious intent, the hidden messages being received by students of color via racial microaggressions were perceived as invalidating and demeaning.

First, the professor seems to not even entertain the notion that the history of psychology and the curriculum comes from a primarily White Eurocentric perspective that alienates and/or fails to capture the experiential reality of students of color (cultural racism). Racial microaggressions, in this case, can be environmental in that the readings, lectures, and content of the course come from only one perspective and do not present the historical totality of all groups in our society or global community. Robert Guthrie (1998), an

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