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A Preliminary Report on the Relationship Between Microaggressions Against Black People and Racism Among White College Students

Abstract

Previous efforts to understand microaggressions have surveyed stigmatized group members’ experiences of receiving microaggressions. This report presents the first attempt to measure self-reported likelihood of delivering microaggressions rather than receiving microaggressions and to explore the association between the likelihood of delivering microaggressions and racial prejudice. We conducted a cross-sectional survey of 33 black and 118 non-Hispanic white undergraduate students at a large public Southern/Midwest university. Black students reported the degree to which a series of statements would be experienced as microaggressive. White students reported their likelihood of delivering those statements and completed measures of racial prejudice. White students’ self-reported likelihood of engaging in microaggressive acts was significantly related to all measures of racial prejudice. The single item “A lot of minorities are too sensitive” was the strongest predictor of negative feelings toward black people. Results offer preliminary support that the delivery of microaggressions by white students is not simply innocuous behavior and may be indicative of broad, complex, and negative racial attitudes and explicit underlying hostility and negative feelings toward black students.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by a grant to Monnica T. Williams from the American Psychological Foundation.

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Correspondence to Jonathan W. Kanter.

Appendix

Appendix

Scenario 1

A friend of yours has wanted you to meet a friend, saying they think you will like the person. You meet this person one-on-one. He turns out to be a tall, fit-looking black man who says he is a law student. He seems very smart and he has a very sophisticated vocabulary. You like his personality.

How likely would you be to think or say the following to him in the course of a conversation (or something similar, maybe not the exact words)?

Scenario 2

You are having a conversation about work with an acquaintance who is a 20-something-year-old African American female. She is wearing a traditional colorful African-style dress and has long hair with scores of tiny braids and golden beads woven into them. Her hair is rolled into a large twisted wrap. How likely would you be to think or say the following to her (or something similar, maybe not the exact words)?

Scenario 3

You are taking a required diversity training workshop. The trainer starts to discuss race and explains that white people have an unfair advantage in most every area of American life due to “White privilege.” A class discussion ensues where one of the white students argues that she never got any special treatment in life due to her race. A black student disagrees and seems visibly upset.

You are asked for your opinion. How likely would you be to think or say any of the following (or something similar, maybe not the exact words)?

Scenario 4

You are with a mixed (black and white) group of friends, and you are talking about various current events and political issues, including police brutality, affirmative action, unemployment, and education.

How likely would you be to think and say the following during the discussion (or something similar, maybe not the exact words)?

Scenario 5

You are hanging out with a group of your closest friends and are listening to a rap song and you find yourself rapping along. One of your black friends objects to the use of the “N-word” but there is nearly a guaranteed chance that there will be more than occasional use of the “N-word” in the music.

How likely would you be to do each of the following (or something similar)?

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Kanter, J.W., Williams, M.T., Kuczynski, A.M. et al. A Preliminary Report on the Relationship Between Microaggressions Against Black People and Racism Among White College Students. Race Soc Probl 9, 291–299 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12552-017-9214-0

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Keywords

  • Racism
  • Discrimination
  • Microaggressions
  • Prejudice
  • Bias
  • Race