Academic journal article Family Relations

Microaggressions within Families: Experiences of Multiracial People

Academic journal article Family Relations

Microaggressions within Families: Experiences of Multiracial People

Article excerpt

This study illustrates the types of multiracial microaggressions, or subtle forms of discrimination toward multiracial people, that transpire in family settings. Utilizing a Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR) Method and a Qualitative Secondary Analysis (QSA), multiracial participants (N = 9) were interviewed in three focus groups to describe the types of microaggressions they encounter in their families. Five domains emerged including (a) isolation within the family, (b) favoritism within the family, (c) questioning of authenticity, (d) denial of multiracial identity and experiences by monoracial family members, and (e) feelings about not learning about family heritage or culture. We discuss how encouraging discussions of race and ethnicity in multiracial families is conducive to promoting healthier identities and well-being for multiracial people.

Key Words: discrimination, multiracial people, racial microaggressions, racism.

Some authors have argued that overt racism has decreased in U.S. society and that covert forms of racial discrimination are more prevalent; so although blatant racism (e.g., hate crimes and racial slurs) still exists, such experiences may be less pervasive on an everyday basis (see Sue, 2010, for a review). In recent years, there has been an increase in literature involving racial microaggressions, or "brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color" (Sue et al., 2007, p. 271). Microaggressions can manifest in many types of situations and between many different parties; they can also range in their subtlety as well as the intentionality of the enactor. For example, when conversing with an Asian American, a White individual may state, "You speak English very well." Although the statement may have been meant to be taken as a compliment, the Asian American who hears such a statement may feel insulted or hurt, particularly if she or he interprets that the White individual stereotyped that she or he would be a foreigner, that English would not be her or his native language, or that she or he was expected to speak improperly or informally. The statement is also subtle in that the enactor did not mention race in her or his ' 'compliment" and because the statement was short and nondirect. The statement may, however, potentially cause the recipient psychological distress, thus classifying it as a microaggression.

Some microaggressions may be more conscious or subconscious in nature. For example, when a Latino man is followed around by a White store clerk or when a White woman clutches onto her purse as an African American walks onto an elevator with her, the enactor may be aware or unaware of her or his actions, and she or he may be aware or unaware of the impact such behavior would have on the recipients. Some perpetrators may potentially be aware of their behavior but might justify that their behavior is warranted because of past experiences or stereotypes that they have learned about certain groups. Others may be aware of their behavior but rationalize that they act similarly around people of all races (e.g., the aforementioned White woman may claim she clutches her purse when anyone walks onto an elevator with her).

Whether intentional or unintentional, microaggressions are associated with harmful effects on the recipients. Whereas previous literature has supported that perceived racial discrimination negatively affects one's mental and physical health (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999; Harrell, Hall, & Taliaferro, 2003; Santana, Almeida-Filho, Roberts, & Cooper, 2007; Steffen & Bowden, 2006), more recent studies focusing specifically on racial microaggressions have supported that people of color experience a great amount of psychological distress in reaction to the accumulation of microaggressions in their lives (see Nadal, 2011, for a review). …

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