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Lasting effects of racial microaggressions

Lasting effects of racial microaggressions

Lasting effects of racial microaggressions
July 03
15:14 2020

At one point in our lives we might have been victims of microaggressions or have been the microaggressor without realizing it. Microaggression is defined as a statement, action or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of marginalized groups. There are many individuals who do not know the difference between overt discrimination and microaggressions. The main difference between the two is awareness. With microaggressions the majority of individuals are not aware what they are saying is discriminatory and prejudicial. Phrases like “You’re not smart for an Asian,” “You speak so white,” “When I look at you I don’t see color,” “What are you?” ”You’re not a true Black/Hispanic because you only listen to white people music,” and countless others are examples of microaggressions. However, microaggressions don’t stop there. They can take form in physical actions as well. Some of those actions can include touching a Black individual’s hair, clutching your purse when passing by a minority, failing to pronounce or constantly mispronouncing someone’s name after being corrected, among many other forms. 

Racial microaggressions can go as far as contributing to conflicts of identity with your heritage and culture. As a white-passing Latina woman, I have faced racial microaggressions from both the Latinx community and white individuals. There was a time in which I had to translate for my mom since she doesn’t speak English. We were immediately received with hostility by the receptionist and once I began trying to explain to her our situation, she said to me that she couldn’t understand my English because of my accent, meanwhile the receptionist next to her was able to understand what I was saying clearly since she offered to help us afterward. Even though this was a less subtle form of microaggression, it made me feel like I wasn’t American enough and discredited that portion of my identity. The receptionist’s actions created self-doubt within me and have stuck with me to this day. I have also been microaggressed by some of my Hispanic friends.

In high school they made me feel like I wasn’t a “true Latina” just because I would mostly listen to ’80s and ’90s music at the time. They claimed I was “white-washed” just because I did not fit the narrative of listening to Spanish music. In the grand scheme of things, someone’s music preference should not define an individual’s ethnic or racial identity, but it does serve as a form to inflict self-doubt in how someone sees themselves. While I understand that other minority groups have been placed in much tougher situations, and being a white-passing Latina places me at a certain advantage in comparison to my other Latinx counterparts, at the time these situations occurred, they did inflict some form of identity conflict and self-doubt. 

Over time, if these microaggressions are left unchecked, they can have lasting effects on the individual who is being victimized. They may seem like small things and innocent offenses, but microaggressions can take a heavy toll on an individual’s mental health. They can lead to low self-esteem and can even alienate these individuals from their own communities in which they feel that sense of belonging. Microaggressions can lead to depression, anxiety and hinder the productivity and problem-solving abilities of an individual. Microaggressions in the workplace can create a hostile and toxic work environment. However, many individuals are afraid to speak up and report or correct this behavior due to being characterized as “overly sensitive” or risk being fired.

In order to prevent microaggressions from occurring, we all must be aware of our biases and not be afraid to call out those people who microaggress us. Race should not immediately be brought up to a minority just because they speak articulately. Those who say, “When I look at you I don’t see color,” should stop saying this because they are downplaying the struggles of minorities in the United States. This phrase also is asserting that you may be the dominant culture and are, therefore, denying the other individual’s culture. When asking the race or ethnicity someone identifies with, people should ask “Where are you from?” or “What is your race/ethnicity?” instead of asking “What are you?” Race does not constitute an individual as a “what.” When someone clutches their belongings while passing by a minority, they are giving off the assumption that only minorities are criminals when this is not the case. 

Subtle things like these are what contribute to racial tensions when they go unconfronted for long periods of time. The lasting effects that racial microaggressions can leave are not worth it when we can all do our part and start confronting the individuals who subtly say things that are racist and prejudicial, whether they know it or not. Confronting these individuals should not be seen as being overly sensitive or as a risky thing. In order to make a more accepting society, we must all be aware of the biases we may not know we have and help those who unintentionally microaggress others to want to educate themselves on the racial inequalities, tensions and injustices that occur in the everyday lives of minorities in the United States. 

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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Eunice Hernandez

Eunice Hernandez

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