In her book, It’s the Little Things, Lena Williams (2000) described how some comments that might seem to be small and unimportant to observers are viewed differently by the person who hears them. For example, when someone seems surprised that a Black woman is a Harvard graduate or assumes that a well-dressed Black man in a hotel is a bell-hop, the overall message is that Blacks are not expected to achieve. Lawrence Graham (1995), a successful Harvard-educated lawyer who worked for a time at an all-White country club, endured comments about how articulate he was and was told that it was easy to find the “Chinaman,” a supply clerk, because his office was by the laundry. Nadal (2013) pointed to comments made to gays and lesbians that reflect gender-based stereotypes, such as “Oh well you’re feminine, so how are you a lesbian?” (p. 114). Sue (2010) used the term “microaggressions” to describe these “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership” (p. 24). As Sue noted, from the perspective of those who experience them (people of color, LGBTs, women, immigrants) these exchanges are frequent and automatic, but are often “glossed over as being innocent or innocuous” (p. 25). However, as Sue noted, microaggressions cause harm to people’s mental health and to their chances for success in the workplace and in educational settings. Recognizing the form microaggressions take and their impact on the recipient of such comments, is an important step toward addressing bias against marginalized group members (see also Nadal, 2013).
Graham, L. O. (1995). Member of the club: Reflections on life in a racially polarized world. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Nadal, K. L. (2013). That's so gay: Microaggressions and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Williams, L. (2000). It's the little things. New York, NY: Harcourt.