Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Microaggression and the Mitigation of Psychological Harm: Four Social Workers' Exposition for Care of Clients, Students, and Faculty Who Suffer 'A Thousand Little Cuts'

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Microaggression and the Mitigation of Psychological Harm: Four Social Workers' Exposition for Care of Clients, Students, and Faculty Who Suffer 'A Thousand Little Cuts'

Article excerpt


On September 25, 2014, the African American actress, Viola Davis, premiered as a law professor in the new television series, "How to Get Away with Murder." Soon after, People Magazine tweeted, "Waiting for Viola to break into, 'You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important'", lines the actress said portraying a maid in a previous movie, "The Help". It appears that even People Magazine staff finds it more comfortable to think of Viola Davis as a maid rather than a law professor. African Americans actors historically have won awards in stereotypical roles. Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington have been accepted in box office roles playing slaves, handymen, corrupt police officers, etc. It is when African Americans step out of these stereotypical roles for other roles, discomfort from majority populations can occur. This form of microaggression, the everyday subtle 'put downs' and insults directed toward African Americans and other ethnic minorities Pierce, 1970; Sue, Capodilupo, & Holder, 2008), is pervasive in our society and subtly wreaks havoc on race relations. Hollywood actors are victims to this as are academic professionals, college students, and social work clients, despite college campuses promoting diversity, inclusion, and expansion of experiences. Many minorities on campus still struggle with many forms of racism, including microaggression.

The social work and other helping professions are charged with educating students to be effective, efficient, and culturally competent practitioners. This helps insure appropriate care of clients. By the time clients come to the attention of social workers, they have experienced 'a thousand little cuts'--compounded emotional wounds, physical wounds, and psychological wounds. The manifestation of those is what often brings the client to the attention of a social service agency; people with many 'cuts' who may now be acting out in a way that is harmful to self and others, dysfunction in their family roles, and unacceptable behavior according to cultural norm. May be some may experience wounds or major cuts. Other wounds are the result of 'a thousand little cuts', a term used to describe the compounded covert racial or gender based insults termed microaggression. While experienced by our clients, microaggressions are experienced by African American social work faculty, shaping, steering, and otherwise affecting our personal lives and professional practice. Last, students of color attending predominately White institutions (PWIs) often experience microaggressions. This article will discuss the definition of microaggression, outline the four forms of microaggression, discuss the harm caused by microaggression as well as outline strategies to mitigate, along with minimizing harm caused to social work clients, students, and faculty.

Definition of Microaggression

Racial microaggressions developed by Pierce (1970) refer to the everyday subtle and often automatic 'put downs' and insult directed toward Black Americans. Although this concept was developed as a result of racism, it is clear that microaggression can be expressed toward any marginalized group in our society, be it gender, class, religion, or others. Microaggressions are brief, commonplace indignities expressed through verbal or behavioral ways. They can be intentional or unintentional but communicate hostile, derogatory insults to the targeted person or group (Sue et al., 2011).

Forms of Microaggression--Microassault, Microinsult, Microinvalidation

Sue et al., (2011) outlines three forms of microaggression. The first, microassault are conscious, based on biased attitudes and beliefs. These attitudes and beliefs are acted out overtly or covertly on a member or members of the marginalized population. Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is a prime example of microassault acted on African Americans. A video-taped conversation of Sterling went viral, a conversation to his mistress about the inferiority of African Americans and his advice to her about avoiding being in the presence of African Americans, based on his biased attitudes and beliefs. …

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