Racial Microaggressions against Black Counseling and Counseling Psychology Faculty: A Central Challenge in the Multicultural Counseling Movement

By Constantine, Madonna G.; Smith, Laura et al. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview
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Racial Microaggressions against Black Counseling and Counseling Psychology Faculty: A Central Challenge in the Multicultural Counseling Movement


Constantine, Madonna G., Smith, Laura, Redington, Rebecca M., Owens, Delila, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


The racial and gender composition of faculty departments at predominantly White colleges and universities within the United States is largely White and male (Trower & Chait, 2002). Female faculty members of color and Black faculty members are underrepresented, and their numbers are declining in most higher education institutions (Samuel & Wane, 2005). Some scholars have blamed structural racism inherent in many college and university tenure systems for the "thinning" (Lee & Leonard, 2001, p. 168) of Black faculty in academic positions.

Racism is an insidious occurrence in the United States that continues to adversely affect millions of people of color, in general, and Black people, in particular (Feagin & Sikes, 1994). Despite their reputations for progressiveness on social issues, colleges and universities are not uniformly safe spaces where Black faculty are free from the toxic effects of many covert forms of racism. Black faculty members have described the marginalization they commonly experience within predominantly White academic settings (Thomas & Hollenshead, 2002). Given the many ways that the problem of racism can have an adverse effect on Black faculty members, it is disconcerting to note the lack of attention researchers have directed to this phenomenon in the past.

With this backdrop in mind, we conducted a study to examine the ways that racial microaggressions, a subtle form of contemporary racism, affected the experiences of Black faculty members in university settings. More specifically, the purpose of this study was to explore the perceived experiences that resulted from racial microaggressions directed against tenure-track or tenured Black faculty in counseling and counseling psychology programs.

Contemporary Racism

Although racism has been part of the experience of Black Americans for hundreds of years in the United States, the face of contemporary racism is substantially different from the blatant acts of discrimination and hostility that characterized the pre-Civil Rights era. Because openly racist attitudes have come to be regarded as immoral and socially unacceptable (Bonilla-Silva, 2003), systems of racial inequity are often perpetuated through unconscious conceptual frameworks, attitudes, and behaviors of White individuals who, construing racism as a thing of the past, evade any responsibility for ending them.

Subtle forms of racist bias have been referred to as colorblind racism (Bonilla-Silva, 2003). In this context, the term color-blind refers to the conception among White individuals that considerations of race are no longer relevant in people's lives in the United States at the present time. Contemporary color-blind racism is expressed in everyday beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that are considered acceptable--and even commendable--by White individuals who use them. Such attitudes are so deeply embedded in societal values and practices that they lie outside the consciousness of many well-intentioned White people who may genuinely consider themselves to be nonracist (Sue, 2003). Color-blind racism includes subtle forms of attitudinal racism that are manifested in what are referred to as racial microaggressions (Pierce, Carew, Pierce-Gonzalez, & Willis, 1978).

Racial Microaggressions

Racial microaggressions are brief, commonplace, and subtle indignities (whether verbal, behavioral, or environmental) that communicate negative or denigrating messages to people of color (Constantine, 2007; Franklin & Boyd-Franklin, 2000; Sue et al., 2007). More frequent and insidious racial microaggressive messages are commonly manifested by White individuals who do not consciously recognize the racist origins or implications of their actions. Racial microaggressions include but are not limited to (a) remarks such as "I don't think of you as Black" (Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2001) or "My grandparents came here with nothing, too, but they worked hard to get ahead in life" (Gallagher, 2003), (b) poor or delayed service in restaurants and stores, (c) "driving-while-Black" traffic stops, and (d) excessive surveillance of Black people while they shop (Feagin & Sikes, 1994).

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