Over the past several decades, forms of racial and ethnic discrimination have evolved. The more contemporary racism, evolving beyond overt racial hatred, is a subtler form of racism likely to be disguised and covert. Prior research has labeled this more insidious forms of discrimination, termed microaggressions, and has found such experiences have increased. The term “racial microagressions” was developed to describe nuanced forms of racism that involve brief and daily “verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to a target person or group” (Sue et al, 2007, p. 273). While research has led to a better description of covert forms of discrimination, little is known about how racial/ethnic minorities handle this experience and what would be most helpful in attempting to disrupt their occurrence and advocate for change. This study seeks to uncover the impact of racial microaggressions on racial/ethnic minorities, to identify how this community responds to these experiences, and explores how participants feel microaggressions can best be addressed when encountered.
Respondents participated in an individual semi-structured interview lasting approximately 30-60 minutes conducted via telephone, accompanied by completion of a brief demographic questionnaire. Qualitative interviewing methods were used to gain insight into feelings, behavior, attitudes, and responses of the ethnic minority participants in relation to a personal experience of a microaggression. Qualitative data was collected from 10 participants. Interviews were subsequently transcribed. Data was entered into ATLAS.ti and family networks were developed to identify major themes and sub-themes across respondent interviews. Descriptive and holistic methods of coding were used as the researchers engaged in open, first-level, and second- level coding methods.
In analyzing the data, four primary themes emerged. These themes were 1) microaggressions as a chronic social condition (all respondents had not only encountered a microaggressive experiencing in their lifetime, but reported having had numerous microaggressive experiences), 2) in the moment reactions (participants spoke about different types of reactions that they had during the actual experience of being microaggressed such as negative emotional reactions, physical or somatic reaction, and feeling silenced and reported no bystanders spoke up in support), 3) reactions in hindsight (such as reflecting on their response or seeking community support), and 4) perspectives on engaging microaggressions/staying safe (participants acknowledged that power differentials may have prevented them from responding differently in the moment but felt safety was of the upmost importance).
The qualitative data from this study suggests experiences of microaggressions are a chronic social condition and can have significant negative impacts on racial/ethnic minorities, such as internalized emotions and feeling silenced. Findings also suggest many of these experiences stem from power differences between the parties involved and, given that power differential, the need for survival outweighs the need to address the micoragressions in that moment. Given that bystanders of these experiences did not speak up, developing a protocol or techniques for bystanders to address microaggressions becomes importance in supporting this population and decreasing the frequency of microaggressions.