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Why words matter: The negative impacts of racial microaggressions

Iloradanon Efimoff, Ph.D. Candidate of Social and Personality Psychology at University of Manitoba, discusses the impact of racial microaggressions on Indigenous and other racialized people. 

“Don’t you go to school for free?”, “You don’t pay taxes!”, “Do you live in a teepee?” are things Indigenous students have heard.

In some cases, there is widespread agreement on what racism is. For example, most people would agree that restricting a racial group’s right to vote in a federal election is racist. (Indigenous people were the last to gain full voting rights in Canada in 1960.)

But in other cases, the agreement is scant — the quotes at the top of this page represent some of those cases. They are examples of racial microaggressions. Racial microaggressions are often considered “minor.”

What are racial microaggressions?

Racial microaggressions are incessant, subtle forms of racism that can be verbal, behavioural or environmental. Racial microaggressions have been described as “racial indignities.”

As a mixed-race Haida woman, I’ve been routinely told I “don’t look Indigenous” or I’m “not like other Indigenous people” because I was born with my mother’s skin tone instead of my father’s. This is an example of a racial microaggression.

Microaggressions may seem small or “micro,” but as incessant forms of racism, they can have big impacts on mental health, physical health and social life.

One study of university students found that non-Indigenous university students regularly asked Indigenous university students if they lived in teepees. Another study found that Indigenous students were stereotyped by others as drunks, addicts or on welfare.

Daily hassles

One way of looking at the impact of racial microaggressions could be to look at daily hassles. Daily hassles are defined as “relatively minor, everyday problems such as commuting problems, family arguments or household repairs.”

The cumulative impact of daily hassles is linked to chronic health conditions like digestive problems, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety and even death. Some researchers have even found that daily hassles have a larger impact on health than major life events given their relentless nature.

The concept of daily hassles show that small things can have big impacts.

Racial microagressions and health

Researchers have shown that racial microaggressions are associated with depression in Latino community members, in university students of Asian descent and create PTSD symptoms in Black participants. Microaggressions are also related to physical health outcomes. Experiencing racial microaggressions during the COVID-19 pandemic was related to physical health issues and sleep troubles for Asians and Asian Americans.

They’re also associated with a whole host of other negative outcomes like substance use, anxiety, stress and even suicidal thoughts in many racialized groups.

Although there is little quantitative research on the impacts of microaggressions on Indigenous people, qualitative research has indicated that Indigenous people feel disrespected, degraded, uncomfortable or like they have to hide their Indigenous identity after experiencing microaggressions.

Microaggressions aren’t just based on race

Microaggressions can be based on many factors. Researchers have identified microaggressions based on gender, LGBTQ identity and ability.

Experiencing microaggressions based on these other factors can have similar effects as racial microaggressions: for example, experiences of disability-related microaggressions were related to higher levels of anxiety in Canadian university students.

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

A person can experience multiple types of microaggressions, due to the intersectionality of their identities.

For example, an Indigenous woman who identifies as bisexual might experience race, gender and sexual orientation-related microaggressions all in one day. Based on research on the impact of microaggressions and daily hassles, it is likely these combined experiences have negative impacts.

What to do about them?

What can people do about microaggressions? Freelance writer Hahna Yoon wrote a piece in the New York Times on how the targets of microaggressions might respond. These discussions are important because microaggressions exist and targets of them must have coping mechanisms. For example, people who experience microaggressions might share their experiences with others who have common experiences as a way to cope.

However, focusing on the target’s response misplaces the burden. A more equitable approach would be to put the onus of addressing microaggressions onto the perpetrators of the microaggressions. But there is relatively little research on this.

One study found that white participants said they were less likely to engage in microaggressions after a day-long workshop on race, racism and racial microaggressions. The study provides hope to those who do this work, but more information is needed.

Microaggressions cause harm. More research needs to be done to understand how best to prevent them. Thinking about how words matter might be a good place to start.The Conversation

Iloradanon Efimoff, Ph.D. Candidate, Social and Personality Psychology, University of Manitoba


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

racial and ethnic inequity

New data reveals disproportionate racial and ethnic disparities among COVID-19 cases

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, the virus has affected the daily lives of all of us. However, COVID-19 has not affected as all equally. As we continue to learn more about the virus, new data collected by the COVID Tracking Project is revealing the racial and ethnic disparities among those infected and killed by the virus. 

Understanding the Disparities 

As of now, the U.S. has surpassed 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, and has reached nearly 7 million confirmed cases. From these cases, data has found that nationally, Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans have disproportionately higher rates of infection. These racial and ethnic groups have also experienced greater deaths, exceeding their share of the population. 

According to key findings from the COVID Tracking Project, Black Americans continue to get infected and die from COVID-19 at rates more than 1.5 times their share of the population. Additionally, data shows that Hispanic and Latinos have a disproportionate rate of infection in 45 states and the District of Columbia. For Native Americans, their share of death and sickness is disproportionate to their population in 21 out of the 36 states with sufficient reporting data. In contrast, white, non-Hispanic cases have consistently remained disproportionately low nationally for their share of the population. 

The COVID Racial Data Tracker also did an analysis recently comparing white death rates to other groups and found that Hispanic and Native Americans are dying about 1.5 times the rate of white people, while Black Americans are dying at 2.4 times. 

CDC released data showing that Blacks, Latinos, and American Indians are experiencing hospitalizations at rates 4.5 to 5.5 times higher than non-Hispanic whites. (Source: CDC.gov)

These health disparities are caused by a variety of factors, many of which are largely due to long-standing systemic health and social inequities. Racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face inequities in the social determinants of health, such as poverty and access to healthcare.    

Key factors that contribute to increased risk

These are just some of the many inequities that put racial and ethnic minority groups at an increased risk of infection and death from COVI-19. 

Discrimination

Discrimination is plays a huge part in limiting who can access crucial services such as healthcare. It exists in systems such as housing, education, criminal justice, and finances as well, which greatly impact the quality of life for those who are part of a racial or ethnic minority group. Discrimination, which includes racism, can lead to chronic and toxic stress, which also affects one’s health and can put individuals at an increased risk for COVID-19. 

Healthcare access

Since people from racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to experience discrimination in systems such as healthcare, this means many more are likely to be uninsured compared to non-Hispanic whites. Healthcare access can also be limited for these groups by other factors such as lack of reliable transportation, child care, ability to take time off work, and language barriers. A long history of discrimination in healthcare also may make some people hesitant to seek help from government and healthcare systems. 

Occupation 

People from racial and ethnic minority groups also face increased risk of infection due to their occupations. Many individuals from these groups are disproportionately represented in essential work positions such as healthcare facilities, grocery stores, farms, factories, and public transportation. They are put at an increased risk due to several factors, from poor working conditions, close contact to others, not being able to work from home, and not having paid sick days. 

Educational, income, and wealth gaps

Educational and economic inequity severely impacts the quality of life for many people in racial and ethnic minority groups. A recent study found that racial discrimination in these areas has cost the U.S. trillions over the last 20 years. Racial and ethnic discrimination in education limits future opportunities such as college admittance, job options, and income gain. People with limited job options are less likely to leave their job, even if it puts them at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

Housing

Members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face housing conditions that may increase their risk of exposure and infection. In many cultures, it is common for many generations of family to live together under one roof. This makes it difficult to follow prevention strategies such as social distancing. Additionally, due to previously mentioned factors such as discrimination and wealth gap, many cannot afford quality housing which poses greater health risks. Some also live in very cramped quarters with others, which also increased the risk of exposure and infection. Lastly, those who have lost their wages due to the pandemic are at a greater risk of eviction and homelessness. 

What We Can Do

The number one thing we can do is work together to ensure that all people have equal access to resources and information to maintain and manage their physical and mental health.

(Source: unsplash.com/@unitednations)

The CDC offers some guidelines and resources to help start this work. While the issue is large and complex, and dismantling inequities will involve work from all systems and institutions, each one of us can do our part to help dismantle these inequities. 

Key steps you can take to help reduce racial and ethnic inequities: 

  • Share COVID-19 prevention information and resources with communities disproportionately affected 
  • Work with trusted local media to share information in diverse formats and languages to reach all community members
  • Connect people to healthcare providers and medical resources, including free or low cost services, such as COVID-19 testing
  • Work to connect people with good and necessities such as healthy foods and housing