The United States still remains segregated yet blatant racism does not appear to be common these days. As discussed by Schneider and his colleagues, there are different forms of racism – aversive, symbolic, and ambivalent – that better articulate the complex concept of racism (2012). I am sure many individuals in marginalized groups agree that racism has not been eradicated as the racism is manifested in subtle bias and discrimination against those who are in the marginalized groups. Such form is called microaggression.
Microaggression is defined as “subtle forms of bias and discrimination” against those who are in marginalized groups (Ong & Burrow, 2017). They can be manifested in both verbal and nonverbal forms whether intentional or unintentional. For example, many Asian American females both U.S. born and foreign born experiences come across microaggression against their ethnicities and gender in a form of microinsult. One woman reported that she and her friends who were also Asian Americans who were accompanied by their White spouses were called “those whores” by drunken soldiers (Iwasaki et al., 2016). Another incident reported by a Black student shows an example of ascription of intelligence when he tried to explain in the class, a White girl interjected, “well, what he means is…” assuming he was not intelligent enough to speak for himself in the class (Sue et al, 2009).
Former President Obama once said in his speech that he was followed when he was shopping in a store, heard the doors of cars locked as he was walking by, and a woman showed extremely nervousness as he got on an elevator with him (Obama, 2013). Those are examples of nonverbal microaggressions. It is disturbing to learn that those behaviors are often automatic that express “put-downs” of individuals in marginalized groups (Pierce et al., 1977). What if Obama were White, would he receive those unfair treatments? He would have on a much lesser degree only because of his gender especially when he was on an elevator with one female, but not as severe as most Black men would.
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine shared the above link to a YouTube video that shows a brief but awkward conversation between an Asian female and a White man. I found it amusing only because I could relate to the situation in the video as a member of a marginalized group. In my case, I was and still am asked what my nationality is. Of course, I am always glad to answer that I am American which does not satisfy their intent of the question. They would rephrase their question in many different ways such as shown in the video. When I reveal my ethnicity, of course as if it is written in a manual book, they try to relate to my ethnic culture.
I must say, based on my personal experiences, that members of marginalized groups are in difficult positions. If they refute to microaggressive comments or behaviors, they are perceived to be sensitive or over-reactive. On the other hand, if they remain silent, they send off messages that those behaviors are socially acceptable. As for me, I am still in search of fitting reactions to disparate treatments as every incident is different and unique. Each time such incidents occur, I try my best not let the situations affect me negatively but wonder when I will be treated for who I am in this so called melting pot. I cannot negate the pervasive feeling of being an alien in my domain whenever I am asked “Where are you from?”.
Iwasaki, M., Thai, C. J., & Lyons, H. Z. (2016). Perceptions of societal microaggressions in Japanese American women married to White American men. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 5(3), 180-196. doi:10.1037/cfp0000065
Obama, B. H. (2013). Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/07/19/remarks-president-trayvon-martin
Ong, A. D., & Burrow, A. L. (2017). Microaggressions and Daily Experience. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(1), 173-175. doi:10.1177/1745691616664505
Pierce, C. M., Carew, J. V., Pierce-Gonzalez, D., & Wills, D. (1977). An Experiment in Racism: TV Commercials. Education and Urban Society, 10(1), 61-87. doi:10.1177/001312457701000105
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.
Sue, D. W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A. I., Nadal, K. L., & Torino, G. C. (2009). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American experience. Asian American Journal of Psychology, S(1), 88-101. doi:10.1037/1948-1985.s.1.88
Where Are You From (2013, May 31). Retrieved February 19, 2017, from https://youtu.be/crAv5ttax2I