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Antiracist Praxis

Microaggressions by Christina Bush

Microaggression, a term first coined by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce in the 1970’s, refers to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue 2010). Microaggressions are often attributed to post-Civil Rights social norms and cultural sensibilities that were marked by an ostensible shift from explicit hostilities, including expletives and slurs, to more implied and covert identity-based slights and indiginites. Microaggressions often take a specific arc beginning with a moment of transgression, often followed by the characteristic move to downplay and delegitimize the experience of the aggrieved, and finally concretized by the fomentation of an afterlife that is sustained through the self-questioning of the actuality or severity of a slight by the transgressed, themselves. The unique psychic effects they levy upon the aggrieved is a key characteristic of microaggressions. Moreover, this emphasis on the psychological trauma enacted upon those who experience microaggressions links the concept to a set of related prejudicial psychic phenomena, including concepts like implicit bias, aversive racism, and stereotype threat. 

Since its emergence in the 1970’s the robust body of scholarship on microaggressions has continued to develop. For example, Derald Wing Sue and colleagues who have written extensively on microaggressions have taken the concept and extracted identity markers---race, gender, sexuality-- to analyze how microaggressions might manifest uniquely across these modalities, as well as proposed a taxonomy of microaggressions which include analytics like microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations. Other scholars have focused their analysis within specific institutions such as higher education or fields like Library and Information Science. It is also worth noting the contributions of literature and the creative arts to broader cultural understandings and familiarity with microaggressions, particularly their affective dimensions.

Ultimately, microaggressions have and continue to serve as a critical and generative concept in understanding the polymorphous manifestations of prejudicial (especially racist) thinking and behaviors in and of themselves while also continuing to deeply inform novel analytics for understanding, discussing, researching, and addressing racial prejudice and racism. 

Suggested Reading

Arroyo-Ramirez, Elvia, et al. "The Reach of a Long-Arm Stapler: Calling in Microaggressions in the LIS Field Through Zine Work." Library Trends, vol. 67, no.1, 2018, pp.107-130.

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf Press, 2014.

Steele, C. M., Spencer, S. J., & Aronson, J. "Contending with Group Image: The Psychology of Stereotype and Social Identity Threat." Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, edited by Mark P. Zanna, vol. 34, pp. 23, pp. 379 – 440. Academic Press, 2002.

Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions in Everyday Life Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley, 2010.

Sue, Derald Wing et al. “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice.” American Psychologist, vol. 62, no. 4, May 2007, pp. 271–286.