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Indignities and Insults: Racial Microaggressions

Trish Olson, Assistant to the Associate Dean

Have you ever attended a conference where, when someone asks you afterward “What did you learn?” you drew a blank? Such was not the case with the Children, Youth, and Families at Risk (CYFAR) conference I attended in Washington, D.C. last week. Conference planners, led by our own Lynne Borden, department head of Family Social Science, tapped Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D. from Cultures Connecting to provide content training.

In Dr. Hollins’ breakout session, she cited Derald Sue’s seminal work “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life.” Dr. Sue defines racial microaggressions as “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.”

Hot Buttons from Cultures Connecting.
So what does a microaggression look like? Dr. Hollins asked us to wear a Hot Buttons and discuss with people in the room questions like:
  • “When you hear these words, how does it make you feel?”
  • “What do the words mean to you?”
  • “I don’t get it — why is this offensive to some people?”
This open dialogue in the room was the most important part of the session — people discussing their “hot buttons” with people who had different life experiences or cultural and ethnic backgrounds, who came from different parts of the country, and so on. One African-American woman shared she was 44 years old and never had these kinds of conversations before.

So, what did I learn at the CYFAR conference? I learned that I need more time for self-reflection on my words and actions around race and ethnicity, and that I need to continue the cultural self-study begun at the April Qualey-Skjervold conference. And, building on Mary Marczak’s May 22 column, I learned to not be afraid to ask others for their honest feedback on words I say, words I write, and how I act.

Editor’s Note: For more information about microaggressions, see the CYFC three-part video series Historical Trauma and Cultural Healing. To continue your own cultural self-study, see the Apply Your Learning handout from the April Qualey-Skjervold conference.
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