Skip to main content

Ethnic Microaggressions and the Depressive and Somatic Symptoms of Latino and Asian American Adolescents

Abstract

Ethnic microaggressions are a form of everyday, interpersonal discrimination that are ambiguous and difficult to recognize as discrimination. This study examined the frequency and impact of microaggressions among Latino (n = 247) and Asian American (n = 113) adolescents (M age = 17.18, SD = .75; 57 % girls). Latino adolescents reported more frequent microaggressions that dismiss their realities of discrimination and microaggressions characterized by treatment as a second class citizen than Asian Americans, but similar levels of microaggressions that highlight differences or foreignness. There were no ethnic differences in the extent to which adolescents were bothered by microaggressions. Moreover, even supposedly innocuous forms of discrimination are associated with elevated levels of anxiety, anger, and stress, which may increase feelings of depression and sickness. Microaggressions should be recognized as subtle discrimination that send messages about group status and devaluation, and similar to overt discrimination, can evoke powerful emotional reactions and may affect mental health.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  1. Behnke, A. O., Plunkett, S. W., Sands, T., & Bamaca-Colbert, M. Y. (2011). The relationship between Latino adolescents’ perceptions of discrimination, neighborhood risk, and parenting on self-esteem and depressive symptoms. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42(7), 1179–1197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Benner, A. D., & Graham, S. (2011). Latino adolescents’ experiences of discrimination across the first 2 years of high school: Correlates and influences on educational outcomes. Child Development, 82(2), 508–519.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Berkel, C., Knight, G. P., Zeiders, K. H., Tein, J.-Y., Roosa, M. W., Gonzales, N. A., et al. (2010). Discrimination and adjustment for Mexican American adolescents: A prospective examination of the benefits of culturally related values. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20(4), 893–915. doi:10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00668.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Brown, C. S., Alabi, B. O., Huynh, V. W., & Masten, C. L. (2011). Ethnicity and gender in late childhood and early adolescence: Group identity and awareness of bias.

  5. Brown, C. S., & Bigler, R. S. (2005). Children’s perceptions of discrimination: A developmental model. Child Development, 76(3), 533–553.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Brown, D. L., & Tylka, T. L. (2011). Racial discrimination and resilience in African American young adults: Examining racial socialization as a moderator. Journal of Black Psychology, 37(3), 259–285.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Carroll, G. (1998). Mundane extreme environmental stress and African American families: A case for recognizing different realities. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 29, 271–284.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Clark, R., Anderson, N. B., Clark, V. R., & Williams, D. R. (1999). Racism as a stressor for African Americans: A biopsychosocial model. American Psychologist, 54(10), 805–816.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24(4), 385–396.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Collins, W. A. (2003). More than myth: The developmental significance of romantic relationships during adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 13(1), 1–24. doi:10.1111/1532-7795.1301001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Compas, B. E., Howell, D. C., Phares, V., Williams, R. A., & Ledoux, N. (1989). Parent and child stress and symptoms: An integrative analysis. Developmental Psychology, 25(4), 550–559.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Constantine, M. G., & Sue, D. W. (2007). Perceptions of racial microaggressions among black supervisees in cross-racial dyads. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54(2), 142–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Crocker, J., & Major, B. (1989). Social stigma and self-esteem: The self-protective properties of stigma. Psychological Review, 96(4), 608–630. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.96.4.608.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Crocker, J., Voelkl, K., Testa, M., & Major, B. (1991). Social stigma: The affective consequences of attributional ambiguity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(2), 218–228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Davila, J., Stroud, C. B., Starr, L. R., Miller, M. R., Yoneda, A., & Hershenberg, R. (2009). Romantic and sexual activities, parent–adolescent stress, and depressive symptoms among early adolescent girls. Journal of Adolescence, 32(4), 909–924. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2008.10.004.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Dovidio, J. F., & Gaertner, S. L. (Eds.). (1986). Prejudice, discrimination, and racism: Historical trends and contemporary approaches (2nd ed.). San Diego: Academic Press.

  17. Eccles, J. S., Midgley, C., Wigfield, A., Buchanan, C. M., Reuman, D., Flanagan, C., et al. (1993). Development during adolescence: The impact of stage environment fit on young adolescents’ experiences in schools and in families. American Psychologist, 48(2), 90–101. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.48.2.90.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Edwards, L. M., & Romero, A. J. (2008). Coping with discrimination among Mexican descent adolescents. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 30(1), 24–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Fisher, C. B., Wallace, S. A., & Fenton, R. E. (2000). Discrimination distress during adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29(6), 679–695.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Fletcher, M. A., & Cohen, J. (2009). Far fewer consider racism big problem. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2009/01/19/ST2009011900012.html.

  21. Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D. (1992). Age and sex differences in perceptions of networks of personal relationships. Child Development, 63(1), 103–115. doi:10.2307/1130905.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Garcia Coll, C., Crnic, K., Lamberty, G., & Wasik, B. H. (1996). An integrative model for the study of developmental competencies in minority children. Child Development, 67(5), 1891–1914.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Graham, S., Bellmore, A., Nishina, A., & Juvonen, J. (2009). “It must be me”: Ethnic diversity and attributions for peer victimization in middle school. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(4), 487–499. doi:10.1007/s10964-008-9386-4.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Greene, M. L., Way, N., & Pahl, K. (2006). Trajectories of perceived adult and peer discrimination among Black, Latino, and Asian American adolescents: Patterns and psychological correlates. Developmental Psychology, 42(2), 218–238.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Haritatos, J., Mahalingam, R., & James, S. A. (2007). John Henryism, self-reported physical health indicators, and the mediating role of perceived stress among high socio-economic status Asian immigrants. Social Science and Medicine, 64(6), 1192–1203.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Harrell, S. P. (1997). The racism and life experience scales (RaLES). Unpublished manuscript.

  27. Harrell, S. P. (2000). A multidimensional conceptualization of racism-related stress: Implications for the well-being of people of color. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70(1), 42–57.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Harris-Britt, A., Valrie, C. R., Kurtz-Costes, B., & Rowley, S. J. (2007). Perceived racial discrimination and self-esteem in African American youth: Racial socialization as a protective factor. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 17(4), 669–682.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Hughes, D., & Chen, L. (1997). When and what parents tell children about race: An examination of race-related socialization among African American families. Applied Developmental Science, 1(4), 200–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Huynh, V. W., & Fuligni, A. J. (2008). Ethnic socialization and the academic adjustment of adolescents from Mexican, Chinese, and European backgrounds. Developmental Psychology, 44(4), 1202–1208.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Huynh, V. W., & Fuligni, A. J. (2010). Discrimination hurts: The Academic, Psychological, and Physical Well Being of Adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20(4), 916–941.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Hwa-Froelich, D. A., & Westby, C. E. (2003). Frameworks of education: Perspectives of Southeast Asian parents and head start staff. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34(4), 299–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Immigration Policy Center (2008). U.S. Latinos slammed by immigration debate gone ugly. Retrieved February 27th, 2011, from http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/us-latinos-slammed-immigration-debate-gone-ugly.

  34. Katz, M. B., Stern, M. J., & Fader, J. J. (2007). The Mexican immigration debate: The view from history. Social Science History, 31(2), 157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Kim, S. Y., Wang, Y., Deng, S., Alvarez, R., & Li, J. (2011). Accent, perpetual foreigner stereotype, and perceived discrimination as indirect links between English proficiency and depressive symptoms in Chinese American adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 289–301.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Le, T. N., & Stockdale, G. (2011). The influence of school demographic factors and perceived student discrimination on delinquency trajectory in adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(4), 407–413.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Leary, M. R. (1983). A brief version of the fear of Negative Evaluation Scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9(3), 371–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Liang, C. T. H., Li, L. C., & Kim, B. S. K. (2004). The Asian American racism-related stress inventory: Development, factor analysis, reliability, and validity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 51(1), 103–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Lorenzo-Blanco, E. I., Unger, J. B., Ritt-Olson, A., Soto, D., & Baezconde-Garbanati, L. (2011). Acculturation, gender, depression, and cigarette smoking among U.S. Hispanic youth: The mediating role of perceived discrimination. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(11), 1519–1533.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Mahon, N. E., Yarcheski, A., & Yarcheski, T. J. (2000). Positive and negative outcome of anger in early adolescents. Research in Nursing & Health, 23(1), 17–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. McConahay, J., Hardee, B., & Batts, V. (1981). Has racism declined in America? It depends on who is asking and what is asked. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 25(4), 563–579.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Neblett, E. W., Jr, White, R. L., Ford, K. R., Philip, C. L., Nguyen, H. X., & Sellers, R. M. (2008). Patterns of racial socialization and psychological adjustment: Can parental communications about race reduce the impact of racial discrimination? Journal of Research on Adolescence, 18(3), 477–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Noh, S., Kaspar, V., & Wickrama, K. A. S. (2007). Overt and subtle racial discrimination and mental health: Preliminary findings for Korean immigrants. American Journal of Public Health, 97(7), 1269–1274.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Pachter, L. M., & Coll, C. G. (2009). Racism and child health: A review of the literature and future directions. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 30(3), 255–263. doi:10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181a7ed5a.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Patel, S. G., Salahuddin, N. M., & O’Brien, K. M. (2008). Career decision-making self-efficacy of Vietnamese adolescents: The role of acculturation, social support, socioeconomic status, and racism. Journal of Career Development, 34(3), 218–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Pierce, C. (1970). Offensive mechanisms. In F. Barbour (Ed.), The black seventies (pp. 265–282). Boston: Porter Sargent.

  47. Pierce, C. (1974). Psychiatric problems of the Black minority. American handbook of psychiatry, 2, 512–523.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Resnick, M. D., Bearman, P. S., Blum, R. W., Bauman, K. E., Harris, K. M., Jones, J., et al. (1997). Protecting adolescents from harm: Findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. Journal of the American Medical Association, 278(10), 823–832.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Rizzo, C. J., Daley, S. E., & Gunderson, B. H. (2006). Interpersonal sensitivity, romantic stress, and the prediction of depression: A study of inner-city, minority adolescent girls. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35(3), 469–478. doi:10.1007/s10964-006-9047-4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Roberti, J. W., Harrington, L. N., & Storch, E. A. (2006). Further psychometric support for the 10-Item Version of the Perceived Stress Scale. Journal of College Counseling, 9(2), 135–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Romero, A. J., & Roberts, R. E. (2003). Stress within a bicultural context for adolescents of Mexican descent. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 9(2), 171–184.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Ruggiero, K. M., & Taylor, D. M. (1995). Coping with discrimination: How disadvantaged group members perceive the discrimination that confronts them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(5), 826–838.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Russell, S. T., Crockett, L. J., Shen, Y.-L., & Lee, S.-A. (2008). Cross-ethnic invariance of self-esteem and depression measures for Chinese, Filipino, and European American adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(1), 50–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Sears, D. O., & Henry, P. J. (2005). Over thirty years later: A contemporary look at symbolic racism*. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 95–150.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Simons, R. L., Simons, L. G., Burt, C. H., Drummund, H., Stewart, E., Brody, G. H., et al. (2006). Supportive parenting moderates the effect of discrimination upon anger, hostile view of relationships, and violence among African American boys. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47(4), 373–389.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Solórzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1–2), 60–73.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Spielberger, C. D., Jacobs, G., Russell, S., & Crane, R. S. (1983). Assessment of anger: The state-trait anger scale. Advances in personality assessment, 2, 159–187.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Sue, D. W. (2004). Whiteness and ethnocentric monoculturalism: Making the “invisible” visible. American Psychologist, 59(8), 761–769.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Sue, D. W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A. I., Nadal, K. L., & Torino, G. C. (2007a). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American experience. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13(1), 72–81.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., & Holder, A. M. B. (2008). Racial microaggressions in the life experience of Black Americans. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(3), 329–336.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., et al. (2007b). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271–286.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Sue, D. W., Lin, A. I., Torino, G. C., Capodilupo, C. M., & Rivera, D. P. (2009). Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(2), 183–190.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Takaki, R. (1994). A different mirror: A history of multicultural America. Little, Brown and Company/Publishers, Inc.

  65. Torres, L., Driscoll, M. W., & Burrow, A. L. (2010). Racial microaggressions and psychological functioning among highly achieving African-Americans: A mixed-methods approach. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29(10), 1074–1099. doi:10.1521/jscp.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Udry, J. R., & Bearman, P. S. (1998). New methods for research on adolescent sexual behavior. In R. Jessor (Ed.), New perspectives on adolescent risk behavior (pp. 241–269). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Wang, J., Leu, J., & Shoda, Y. (2011). When the Seemingly Innocuous “Stings”: Racial microaggressions and their emotional consequences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(12), 1666–1678.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., McMorris, B. J., Chen, X., & Stubben, J. D. (2001). Perceived discrimination and early substance abuse among American Indian children. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 42(4), 405–424.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Williams, D. R., & Mohammed, S. A. (2009). Discrimination and racial disparities in health: Evidence and needed research. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 32(1), 20–47.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Yosso, T. J., Smith, W. A., Ceja, M., & Solórzano, D. G. (2009). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate for Latina/o undergraduates. Harvard Educational Review, 79(4), 659–691.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Zhou, M., & Xiong, Y. S. (2005). The multifaceted American experiences of the children of Asian immigrants: Lessons for segmented assimilation. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 28(6), 1119–1152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Support for this study was provided by a grant from the Foundation for Psychocultural Research UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development. Preparation of this manuscript was supported by the University of California, Los Angeles Dissertation Year Fellowship. The author is grateful for the participation and support from the schools and families involved in this project.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Virginia W. Huynh.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Huynh, V.W. Ethnic Microaggressions and the Depressive and Somatic Symptoms of Latino and Asian American Adolescents. J Youth Adolescence 41, 831–846 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-012-9756-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Microaggressions
  • Discrimination
  • Asian
  • Latino
  • Anger