The Nature and Impact of Microaggression on Adolescents and Adults: Findings from Three Empirical Investigations

Thursday, January 15, 2015: 3:30 PM-5:15 PM
Balconies J, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration
Symposium Organizer:
Shandra Forrest-Bank, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
The term microaggression refers to small, often subtle, verbal and non-verbal acts of discrimination experienced in the daily lives of oppressed populations. The concept initially was developed to describe racial microaggression (Pierce, 1971), however, the central underlying mechanisms of microaggression appear to be shared across marginalized groups with specific manifestations particular to the “otherness” that is ascribed to each group (Sue et al., 2010). In some cases, acts of microaggression are perpetrated with the intent to inflict harm, while other times they are subtle insults toward people of minority groups that are automatic, nonverbal, and often unintended in nature (Solórzano et al., 2007; Sue et al., 2007). Scholars agree that subtle bigotry like microaggression may have particularly harmful impacts (Solórzano et al., 2000; Sue, 2010).

To date there is little mention of microaggression in the social work literature. A small and emerging body of research has demonstrated the negative effects of microaggression on physical, emotional, academic, and behavioral health outcomes among adolescents and adults. Several qualitative studies have contributed to knowledge of the specific manifestations and mechanisms by which microaggression is perpetrated. However, additional studies are necessary to understand the complex dimensions and effects of microaggression on young people.

In this symposium we present findings from 3 investigations that use different methods to examine microaggression. The first study uses narrative thematic qualitative methods to explore microaggressive experiences of a sample of African-American adults (N = 10, ages 21-62). The findings report how microaggressive interactions with white people were described, how the participants responded, and the thoughts and feelings that resulted. Participants were also prompted to talk about perceived associated negative stress, and attributions of health effects. A second study uses grounded theory methodology to examine experiences of microaggression among adolescent youth who belong to religious minorities in a public school setting (N = 50, grades 6-12). Findings demonstrate how daily lived experiences of microaggression serve to perpetuate majority norms in a public school culture. The final study adds a quantitative research perspective to the study of microaggression. In this study, investigators conducted exploratory factor analyses to evaluate the validity of a new instrument that measures racial and ethnic microaggression. Particular attention is paid to assessing invariance in the factor structure across different racial and ethnic groups in this investigation; findings reveal important differences in the way in which microaggression is conceptualized by different groups.

Greater awareness and understanding of the mechanisms and impacts of microaggression have important implications for social workers and other practitioners. When unrecognized and unaddressed, microaggression is a mechanism of oppression that social workers with best intentions may inadvertently perpetuate, or at least overlook, in understanding client experiences and how clients respond to treatment setting and clinicians. On the other hand, when microaggression is understood and brought out in the open, there are numerous opportunities to intervene and to enhance direct services and promote social justice.

* noted as presenting author
Racial Microaggression: Stress and Health Effects of Subtle Interpersonal Violence in Narratives of African American Adults
Joanne Hall, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Becky Fields, PhD, Roane State Community College
Religious Microaggression in Public Schools
Shandra Forrest-Bank, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; David R. Dupper, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Measuring Microaggression: Assessing Differences in Factor Structure for Black, Hispanic/Latino, & Asian Young Adults
Shandra Forrest-Bank, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Jeffrey M. Jenson, PhD, University of Denver; Shannon Trecartin, MSW, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
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