Microaggression in Our Daily Life

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


  1. Tarek Al-hashimi

    I really enjoyed reading your post, which highlighted how microaggressions can subsist in our daily lives. As you pointed out, blatant racism has been declining steadily over the past few decades, but these other types of racism exist and might be gaining ground. It is difficult for people to manage their unintentional microaggressions, as I have also noted in my own life.

    My parents are immigrants from Syria, and although I was born in Pennsylvania I get questioned about my background from people who often mean well. Similar to how the “Where are you from?” video conversation unfolded, there have been instances where a friend of mine will tell me he eats hummus regularly. I do not take offense to such generalizations, but fear that they can be harmful.

    People of Arabic descent are susceptible to stereotyping and prejudice from other members of their communities. It is difficult to fight these stereotypes when news media emphasize terrorist attacks and arouse fear in viewers. One cannot blame a person for associating the terror with the region the attacker is from, but this negatively paints a broad picture of all Arabs. I would love to see some research studies that are investigating how to reduce negative prejudice against Arabs and other minority groups. I considered this post to be insightful, and it did a great job of bringing an important issue to light.

  2. I love that you decided to blog about microaggression! This is such an important and unfortunate thing still very much alive today. In a world that is constantly changing and progressing, there are still so many issues that either lie dormant or are further going downhill.

    I am a hispanic female. I live in a predominately white area in Southern California. There have been subtle instances where I would be out and people would give me interesting looks. I have even had someone mention to me, before President Trump took office, if I was worried about anyone in my family having to leave if he becomes president. There was an underlying assumption that because I have brown skin, certainly someone in my family must be illegal. It was not only degrading, but it was an incredibly ignorant comment that I never thought I would actually hear in my lifetime.

    I would be lying if I said I did not ever participate in a form of microaggression throughout my life. I can recall being a scared eighteen year old girl out at midnight who locked my doors immediately as someone was approaching if I was out. I think it had a lot to do with my surrounding environment and comfortability than with me stereotyping or placing negative and ill emotions towards another individual or group. I know that is not the case with everyone, however.

    Great post. I feel like you provided thought provoking information with a lot of great points to consider. I will definitely be more aware of the way I *think* about others in the future.

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