Cover Page

MICROAGGRESSIONS IN EVERYDAY LIFE

Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

DERALD WING SUE

001

I would like to dedicate this book to my wife Paulina Wee,
my son Derald Paul, my daughter Marissa Catherine,
my daughter-in-law Claire Iris,
and new granddaughter Caroline Riley.

Foreword

I feel deeply honored to write this Foreword to Derald Wing Sue’s Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Before I comment on the book itself, I want to provide some context for absorbing the text by discussing your author, Dr. Derald Wing Sue.

Dr. Sue has been a role model and mentor to me and hundreds of mental health professionals engaged in multicultural counseling and research. For this reason, I was personally touched to receive his invitation to prepare this brief Foreword. It is fair to say that Dr. Sue is the most often cited and quoted scholar in the field of multicultural counseling. Moreover, his scholarly impact extends beyond the counseling field, as he has had a profound impact in clinical psychology, social work, psychiatry, social justice, political science, and education. Furthermore, Dr. Sue’s impact has reached far beyond North American borders, particularly to Europe and Asia, and some of his classic works of scholarship (e.g., Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice [Sue & Sue, 2008]) have been translated into multiple languages.

A number of aspects of Dr. Sue’s life and career have promoted his global status as a “legend in the field.” Chief among these is that his own personal processing of life and career experiences have markedly informed his past and this current work, and have imbued his positions with logic, validity, and credibility. A few thoughts that I seem to always have in mind when I am reading and processing Dr. Sue’s work (i.e., this new book, and recently, Counseling the Culturally Diverse [Sue & Sue, 2008] and Overcoming Our Racism: The Journey to Liberation [Sue, 2003]) are reflected in the following points:

1. There is a marked synergy between Dr. Sue as a scholar and author and as an individual, authentic person. For example, one definable characteristic of his work and role modeling is his openness and courage. Dr. Sue has personally experienced countless microaggressions (as well as blatant macroaggressions) in his personal life and career, a number of which he candidly, vividly, and poignantly describes in his published life story (Sue, 2001), as well as in the current text. Dr. Sue discusses the impact of these racist incidents on himself and his family, and he describes the actions he took and the resources he drew on to cope with these experiences. Thus, what you are about to read in this destined-to-be-classic text has deep roots and anchors in Dr. Sue’s personal life experiences. The result is a textural work of scholarship that is fluid, riveting to read, replete with real life day-to-day examples, at times alarming and upsetting to process, and in the end, hopeful in contemplating “the way forward.”

2. Though as a reader and practicing clinician I am drawn to the unfolding interplay of Dr. Sue’s life experiences and integrative, interdisciplinary writing, as a researcher I am impressed with the depth and breadth of his scholarship, his research vision, and his pure scientific skill. Dr. Sue is one of the few mixed methods researchers in multicultural psychology, and his mastery of both qualitative approaches (e.g., long interviews, discourse analysis, case studies, participant observation) and quantitative designs (e.g., large sample survey research and experimental designs) inform his writing and help him creatively investigate his personal perceptions garnered as a Chinese American living in the United States and a psychologist and educator who has worked directly on the topic of racism through decades of teaching, consultation, clinical service, and national leadership. In Microaggressions in Everyday Life, Dr. Sue masterfully pulls all of his life and work experiences together to frame a new theory and vision for the study of racism, sexism, and homophobia. What Dr. Sue has created in his “Taxonomy of Microaggressions” will ignite research in the field of racism and multiple oppressions that will ultimately lead to marked change in the way we all deal with and respect one another. This book is that good. It will change the way you think, it will move you to act and not just witness and observe, and it will even influence how you feel toward, communicate with, and care for your own loved ones, students, and clients.

Having provided a glimpse into Dr. Sue as a person, role model, and scholar, I now turn to my reactions to reading this new book. I have organized my impressions of Microaggressions in Everyday Life along six major areas:

1. A Window of Clarity. Most of us know blatant racism, sexism, and homophobia when we see it. Sexual harassment and domestic violence toward women, and hate crimes directed toward racial minorities and gays and lesbians are definable, always illegal, and often open to redress through prosecution. However, as logically argued by Dr. Sue, overt hate crimes, though still all too common in society, represent only a small portion of the hurricane-wind of oppression faced minute to minute, hour to hour, and day to day by racial and sexual-orientation minorities and women. The majority of oppression faced by these group members is “micro” (not immediately visible to the eye), insidious, psychologically and physically draining, and often not definable, illegal, or open to redress.

Social science researchers have coined such terms as “modern racism,” “aversive racism,” and “subtle racism” in an attempt to capture and understand the essence of the many forms of non-blatant racism. However, heretofore, models for understanding non-blatant forms of racism and oppression have been difficult to fully visualize and comprehend, almost as if looking through a foggy window. Now, with Microaggressions in Everyday Life, we have a clear window through which to see the manifestations, process, and impact of everyday oppression. Through his decade-long research program, Dr. Sue has provided us with a vivid model and clear vocabulary to understand, empirically research, and hopefully reduce the day-to-day oppression faced by so many persons in America and beyond.

2. Something About His Writing! Whenever I sit down to read Dr. Sue’s work, I cannot help but be riveted. This first happened for me in 1981, when as a graduate student I began reading his inaugural edition of Counseling the Culturally Different (now Counseling the Culturally Diverse; Sue, 1981). At the time there were few books on multicultural counseling, and Dr. Sue’s was by far the most engaging, direct, and impactful. I felt the same way when reading his Overcoming Our Racism (Sue, 2003) and, just recently, in finishing this current work. In reading Microaggressions in Everyday Life, I felt as if I was in a small group talking with and interacting with Dr. Sue. His personhood, authenticity, and passion for justice shine through in every chapter. He uses everyday language that is understandable and impactful, and he does not tip-toe around issues of microaggressions and racism. He is direct in presenting his positions, clear and logical in reviewing and integrating a wide body of research, and hopeful in pointing a way forward for all of us in terms of working to understand microaggressions in ourselves, and to stop microaggressions against our fellow citizens.

Another reaction I had while reading Dr. Sue’s newest work was more visceral in nature. Generally, when reading books about racism and prejudice I process them “in my head,” intellectually. However, throughout reading Microaggressions in Everyday Life, my sensations and feelings were in my stomach—I could feel anger and frustration at the myriad injustices being unveiled by Dr. Sue’s careful dialogic deconstruction; I felt guilt as I realized how I have and continue to microaggress against others. When reading the many real-life vignettes and scenarios throughout each chapter, I had a sense of verisimilitude; that is, I felt as if I were in the vignette seeing what was happening, while also now understanding what was happening and knowing what the destructive impact would be.

3. Validity and Credibility. These terms are used in quantitative and qualitative research, respectively, to describe the accuracy, interpretability, and substantive nature of empirical inquiry. Impressively, each chapter in this new text is marked by high levels of validity and credibility as Dr. Sue integrates a varied interdisciplinary body of research with the results of his own mixed methods research program to arrive at a model for understanding and intervening in daily microaggressions. A particular strength of this new book is the inclusion of direct quotes, dialogues, and mini-case studies in each chapter that serve to give voice to those regularly subjected to microaggressions and shed light on the thinking and behavior of the majority of us who perpetuate daily microaggressions.

Dr. Sue does a clear and crisp job in first presenting the dialogue, quotes, or case study, and then logically deconstructing and analyzing the material so that readers can vividly see what microaggressions are, how they operate, the prejudicial thinking that powers them, and the spoken words and subtle behaviors that operationalize the aggressions.

4. Conceptual and Theoretical Understanding. Dr. Sue’s mastery of a wide and interdisciplinary body of theoretical writing and empirical research on racism and oppression is almost impossible to comprehend. He has been able to integrate and subsume multiple theoretical models and bodies of research into his overarching theory of microaggressions. Rather than add his own piece to the puzzle of understanding oppression, he has completed the puzzle through his comprehensive outline of microaggressions in everyday life.

Groundbreaking and integrative theoretical advances in this new work include Dr. Sue’s Taxonomy for Understanding Microaggressions—microassaults (conscious), microinsults (unconscious), and microinvalidations (unconscious) —as well as his five-phase model for deconstructing the microaggression process: experiencing the incident → attributing the aggressor’s intent → immediate cognitive, behavioral, and emotive reaction to the incident → interpreting and processing the incident and reaction → consequences of and consideration in coping with the microaggression. Through his systematically charted and long-standing qualitative research program, Dr. Sue clearly outlines these theoretical models and provides explicit examples and interpretations of their manifestation in individuals.

Clearly, Dr. Sue has provided a robust theoretical model and specific research tools (e.g., discourse analysis) that will guide ongoing and future research in the study of microaggression impact, coping, and intervention. I would not be surprised to see in the next decade that Microaggressions in Everyday Life serves as the theoretical model and conceptual rationale for 25 doctoral dissertations and 100 journal articles.

5. Depth and Breadth of Coverage. Microaggressions in Everyday Life builds off of Dr. Sue’s decade-long systematic research program on microaggressions. As a result, Dr. Sue and his esteemed culture- and gender-diverse research team (inclusive of emerging international scholars such as J. M. Bucceri, C. M. Capodilupo, M. Esquilin, A. M. B. Holder, A. I. Lin, K. L. Nadal, D. P. Rivera, and G. C. Torino) have been able to extend the initial work on racial microaggressions to issues of gender and sexual orientation. What Dr. Sue’s research team has found is that some aspects of microaggressions transcend targeted minority groups, while other aspects are rather unique to specific groups. As such, clinicians, educators, managers, employers, and politicians need to understand both transcendent and culturally specific manifestations of microaggression if they are to contribute to Dr. Sue’s vision for the “way forward.”

This text devotes substantive discussion to various racial/ethnic microaggressions (i.e., African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans), gender microaggressions, and sexual-orientation microaggressions. Furthermore, it specifically addresses microaggressions in critical spheres of life, such as employment, education, and the mental health therapy process itself. Dr. Sue addresses specifically and candidly the significant toll that microaggressions take on people’s physical and mental health, quality of life, and sense of humanity.

Unique to this visionary text is a detailed discussion of the psycho-logical costs of microaggressions to the perpetrators, an often neglected topic in the social and behavioral sciences literature. These consuming and destructive costs include cognitive impairment (operating in a false and distorted reality), affective consequences (feelings of fear, anxiety, apprehension, guilt, and lowered empathy), behavioral manifestations (inhibited social interaction experiences), and spiritual/moral failings (losing spiritual interconnectedness with humanity).

6. The Way Forward. Though at times daunting and upsetting to now understand the prevalence, nature, and destructive force of microaggressions to all involved, Dr. Sue gives us hope in that every chapter presents an integrated “way forward” section that provides practical steps that we ourselves can take in order to better understand and control our own tendency to microaggress, as well as to help others who perpetuate or suffer from the wide array of microaggressions. To be sure, envisioning a society completely devoid of microaggressions is likely impossible, yet we must draw on Dr. Sue’s wisdom and scholarship and begin to implement his “way forward” suggestions. As noted by Dr. Sue, simultaneous to understanding and limiting our own microaggressive behavior, we must continue to develop coping skills to help reduce the long-term impact of destructive microaggressions.

I am certain you will be both riveted and also personally and professionally impacted as soon as you start reading Dr. Sue’s latest integrative and groundbreaking text. As a student, this book will enhance your personal and professional development and will provide you a path for an important research and/ or dissertation program. As an educator and clinician, this book will increase your awareness and self-knowledge and make you more effective and impactful as an educator, healer, and role model.

Wishing you a good read!

Joseph G. Ponterotto, PhD
Professor, Fordham University
Private Practice, New York City

REFERENCES

Sue, D. W. (1981). Counseling the culturally different: Theory and practice. New York: Wiley.

Sue, D. W. (2001). Surviving monoculturalism and racism: A personal and professional journey. In J. G. Ponterotto, J. M. Casas, L. A. Suzuki, & C. M. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling (2nd ed., pp. 45-54). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sue, D. W. (2003). Overcoming our racism: The journey to liberation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Preface

Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation is about the damaging consequences of everyday prejudice, bias, and discrimination upon marginalized groups in our society. The experience of racial, gender, and sexual-orientation microaggressions is not new to people of color, women, and LGBTs. It is the constant and continuing everyday reality of slights, insults, invalidations, and indignities visited upon marginalized groups by well-intentioned, moral, and decent family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, students, teachers, clerks, waiters and waitresses, employers, health care professionals, and educators. The power of microaggressions lies in their invisibility to the perpetrator, who is unaware that he or she has engaged in a behavior that threatens and demeans the recipient of such a communication.

While hate crimes and racial, gender, and sexual-orientation harassment continue to be committed by overt racists, sexists, and homophobes, the thesis of this book is that the greatest harm to persons of color, women, and LGBTs does not come from these conscious perpetrators. It is not the White supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members, or Skinheads, for example, who pose the greatest threat to people of color, but instead well-intentioned people, who are strongly motivated by egalitarian values, believe in their own morality, and experience themselves as fair-minded and decent people who would never consciously discriminate. Because no one is immune from inheriting the biases of the society, all citizens are exposed to a social conditioning process that imbues within them prejudices, stereotypes, and beliefs that lie outside their level of awareness. On a conscious level they may endorse egalitarian values, but on an unconscious level, they harbor antiminority feelings.

Bias, prejudice, and discrimination in North America has undergone a transformation, especially in the post-civil rights era when the democratic belief in equality of marginalized groups (racial minorities, women, and gays/ lesbians) directly clashes with their long history of oppression in society. In the case of racism and sexism, its manifestation has been found to be more disguised and covert, rather than overtly expressed in the form of racial hatred and bigotry. Research also indicates that sexism and heterosexism have not decreased, but instead become more ambiguous and nebulous, making them more difficult to identify and acknowledge.

Although much has been written about contemporary forms of racism, sexism, and homophobia, many studies in health care, education, law, employment, mental health, and social settings indicate the difficulty of describing and defining racial, gender, and sexual-orientation discrimination that occurs via “implicit bias”; these are difficult to identify, quantify, and rectify because of their subtle, nebulous, and unnamed nature. Subtle racism, sexism, and heterosexism remain relatively invisible and potentially harmful to the well-being, self-esteem, and standard of living of many marginalized groups in society. These daily common experiences of aggression may have significantly more and stronger effects on anger, frustration, and self-esteem than traditional, overt forms of racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Furthermore, their invisible nature prevents perpetrators from realizing and confronting their own complicity in creating psychological dilemmas for minorities and their role in creating disparities in employment, health care, and education.

In reviewing the literature on subtle and contemporary forms of bias, the term “microaggressions” seems to best describe the phenomenon in its everyday occurrence. Simply stated, microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership. The term was first coined by Pierce in 1970 in his work with Black Americans, in which he defined it as “subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put downs’” (Pierce, Carew, Pierce-Gonzalez, & Willis, 1978, p. 66). They have also been described as “subtle insults (verbal, nonverbal, and/or visual) directed toward people of color, often automatically or unconsciously” (Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000). In the world of business, the term “microinequities” is used to describe the pattern of being overlooked, underrespected, and devalued because of one’s race or gender. They are often unconsciously delivered as subtle snubs or dismissive looks, gestures, and tones. These exchanges are so pervasive and automatic in daily conversations and interactions that they are often dismissed and glossed over as being innocent and innocuous. Yet, as indicated previously, microaggressions are detrimental to persons of color because they impair performance in a multitude of settings by sapping the psychic and spiritual energy of recipients and by creating inequities.

Microaggressions in Everyday Life is divided into four major sections:

  1. Section One: Psychological Manifestation and Dynamics of Microaggressions is composed of three chapters.
    1. Chapter 1: The Manifestation of Racial, Gender, and Sexual-Orientation Microaggressions introduces the reader to the overall definition of microaggressions, their everyday manifestations, hidden demeaning messages, and their detrimental impact upon recipients. It reveals how marginality is similarly expressed by well-intentioned individuals toward people of color, women, and LGBTs. It does this by providing numerous examples of the everyday indignities visited upon these groups. More disturbing is the conclusion that everyone has engaged in harmful conduct toward other socially devalued groups.
    2. Chapter 2: Taxonomy of Microaggressions provides readers with a way to classify microaggressions, the three forms they take (microassault, microinsult, and microinvalidation), their hidden insulting and hostile messages, and their harmful impact upon recipients. Microaggressions appear to be classifiable under different racial, gender, and sexual-orientation themes. These themes appear to be a reflection of stereotypes and worldviews of inclusion-exclusion and superiority-inferiority.
    3. Chapter 3: The Psychological Dilemmas and Dynamics of Microaggressions is an attempt to analyze how microaggressions create dilemmas and distress to people of color, women, and LGBTs. Four major psychological dilemmas confront targets when microaggressions make their appearance. First, there is a clash of racial, gender, and sexual-orientation realities, in which both perpetrator and target interpret the situation differently. Second, because the bias is invisible, perpetrators are unaware that they have insulted or demeaned the target and are allowed to continue in the belief of their innocence. Third, even when microaggressions become visible, they are seen as trivial or small slights that produce only minimal harm. Fourth, targets are placed in an unenviable catch-22 position where they are “damned if they do” (choose to confront the perpetrator) and “damned if they don’t” (choose to do nothing).
  1. Section Two: Microaggressive Impact on Targets and Perpetrators is composed of three chapters.
    1. Chapter 4: The Microaggression Process Model: Microaggressions from Beginning to End describes our most recent findings on what triggers microaggressions (incidents), how they are perceived by the recipient, the numerous reactions that can occur, how events are interpreted, and their impact or consequences. I propose a process model to understand the various dimensional components of microaggressive dynamic flow.
    2. Chapter 5: Microaggressive Stress: Impact on Physical and Mental Health summarizes the theory and research literature on the psychological and physical detrimental consequences that accrue to marginalized groups through microaggressions. Far from being benign, microaggressions have major mental and physical health consequences to the targets. The chapter discusses stress-coping models and makes a strong case that microaggressions are not only qualitatively different from the hassles of everyday life, but that they have even stronger effects.
    3. Chapter 6: Microaggressive Perpetrators and Oppression: The Nature of the Beast is perhaps quite unique because it explores the consequences of oppression and racial, gender, and sexual-orientation microaggressions on perpetrators. In other words, research is beginning to reveal that microaggressions not only have detrimental impact on targets, but the perpetrators as well. Some of these findings suggest that perpetrators are likely to develop a warped sense of reality, callousness, anxiety, guilt, and other damaging effects.
  1. Section Three: Group-Specific Microaggressions: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation is composed of three chapters.
    1. Chapter 7: Racial/Ethnic Microaggressions and Racism discusses racial/ethnic minority groups (African American, Asian American, Latino(a)/Hispanic American, and Native American) with respect to racial issues under the microaggression rubric. Chapter 8: Gender Microaggressions and Sexism discusses the impact of bias on women with respect to gender issues under the microaggression rubric.
    2. Chapter 9: Sexual-Orientation Microaggressions and Heterosexism discusses biases against LGBTs with respect to sexual-orientation issues under the microaggression rubric.
  1. Section Four: Microaggressions in Employment, Education, and Mental Health Practice is composed of three chapters.
    1. Chapter 10: Microaggressive Impact in the Workplace and Employment describes and analyzes the operation of racial, gender, and sexual orientation in the workplace. It reveals how microaggressions operate in the recruitment, retention, and promotion of marginalized groups in the world of work, how it disadvantages them, interferes with work performance, and leads to detrimental consequences. It broadens the analysis of microaggressions to how it creates a hostile and invalidating work environment.
    2. Chapter 11: Microaggressive Impact on Education and Teaching: Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race in the Classroom explores how microaggressions are manifested in the curriculum, knowledge base, campus climates, and most importantly in the classroom. I present a series of studies specifically on how microaggressions are triggers to difficult dialogues on race, gender, and sexual orientation in the classroom and reasons why educators fail miserably in their ability to facilitate these dialogues.
    3. Chapter 12: Microaggressive Impact on Mental Health Practice makes a strong case that underutilization of mental health facilities and premature termination may be due to microaggressions unknowingly delivered by well-intentioned therapists. Issues of trust-mistrust and counselor credibility are analyzed as they impact the credibility of the helping professional.

It is important to note that a major goal of the text is to present research data, theories, and practical suggestions as to how to overcome microaggressions directed at all marginalized groups, and to make specific suggestions related to how they can be ameliorated at individual, institutional, and societal levels. For that reason, not only are these remedial and preventive interventions discussed throughout each chapter, but a special concluding section, The Way Forward, ends each chapter with an outline of guidelines, strategies, and interventions that can be taken to free our society of microaggressions.

Acknowledgments

I would like to personally acknowledge research team members at Teachers College, Columbia University, for their valuable work with me on microaggressions: Christina Capodilupo, Peter Donnelly, Aisha Holder, Annie Lin, Kevin Nadal, David Rivera, and Gina Torino. Our five-year study of microaggressive phenomena would not have been possible without their dedicated work on the team. Some have already received their doctorates and I know they will join the ranks of major scholars in the field.

I would also like to express my appreciation to Rachel Livsey (Senior Editor), Peggy Alexander (Publisher), and the staff at John Wiley & Sons for their interest, encouragement, support, and help in this project.

As always, special thanks goes to my wife, Paulina, for constantly putting up with the long hours at my office and away from home spent in completing this book.

Derald Wing Sue
Teachers College, Columbia University

About the Author

Derald Wing Sue is Professor of Psychology and Education in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. He served as presidents of the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues, the Society of Counseling Psychology, and the Asian American Psychological Association. Dr. Sue is an Associate Editor of the American Psychologist and continues to be a consulting editor for numerous publications. He is author of over 150 publications, including 15 books, and is well known for his work on racism/antiracism, cultural competence, multicultural counseling and therapy, and social justice advocacy. Two of his books, Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice and Overcoming Our Racism: The Journey to Liberation (John Wiley & Sons), are considered classics in the field. Dr. Sue’s most recent research on racial, gender, and sexual-orientation microaggressions has provided a major breakthrough in understanding how everyday slights, insults, and invalidations toward marginalized groups create psychological harm to their mental and physical health, and create disparities for them in education, employment, and health care. A national survey has identified Derald Wing Sue as “the most influential multicultural scholar in the United States” and his works are among the most frequently cited.

SECTION ONE
Psychological Manifestation and Dynamics of Microaggressions