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.

How designer Adriana Pavon is aiding indigenous artists during Covid-19

Adriana Pavon is a Mexican designer and founder of Mexico Culture & Pride (México Cultura y Orgullo). Passionate about celebrating her Mexican roots and honoring her culture, Adriana created Mexico Culture & Pride as an initiative to support indigenous artists. With cultural appropriation running rampant in the fashion industry, Adriana’s focus is to celebrate and uplift authentic Mexican designs and artistry. 

Photo courtesy of Adriana Pavon

Mexico Culture & Pride offers various programs for designers to get involved. The Mexican Lab is a cultural residency program open to socially conscious companies who embrace green, sustainable businesses. The program focuses on designing authentic Mexican products, respecting small businesses, helping to secure employment, and preventing migration issues and family separation. 

The Mexican Hub is a residency program in Oaxaca, Mexico. Its goal is to foster cultural identity and welcome diversity. Through the Hub program, guests are welcomed into the residency to explore projects in the realm of textile design, eco design, sustainability, wellness, dance, human relations, and social work. 

Lastly, the Mexican Pro program focuses collaboration by building alliances with Mexican artists.

Since the pandemic began, Adriana has been doubling her efforts in aiding indigenous artists during Covid-19. 

Photo courtesy of Adriana Pavon

COVID-19’s impact on indigenous communities

Indigenous communities have been some of the hardest hit communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indigenous communities are already vulnerable, experiencing significantly higher rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases, poor access to health care and essential services, sanitation, and other preventative measures such as access to soap and water for frequent hand-washing. 

Another debilitating factor is the lack of access to resources in indigenous languages. Governments in Latin American countries “have focused their resources primarily on urban populations speaking dominant languages,” such as Spanish and Portuguese, but have not put much effort into making these resources accessible to rural, indigenous populations. 

Indigenous Artists of Mexico Culture & Pride (Photo courtesy of Adriana Pavon)

With lockdown measures in place, indigenous communities are also experiencing food insecurity and a loss of their traditional livelihoods. For artisans who make their livelihood through street vending and markets, the quarantine has been a devastating financial blow.

Government aid has been sporadic and difficult to obtain for indigenous artists who must meet very specific criteria to be considered. Because of this, many are looking to other avenues for aid and support during this time, but still the financial insecurity is causing much stress to indigenous artists with many now worrying that it will not be the virus that kills them, but hunger

Without tourism and street traffic, and with non-essential businesses forced to close, there is no market for Mexican artisans who live day-to-day relying on sales to make their income. This has been one of the many challenges Adriana has been working to address through Mexico Culture & Pride. 

“Our main source of income was financial solidarity trips where our guests were allies to visit the artist shops, experience unique culinary experiences with top chefs, and visit cultural spaces besides the regular fun tourism,” says Adriana. “With a hold on those visits, it’s taken a toll on many of the artists I support and it’s been challenging trying to support them from far away. We’ve been innovating and preparing for a new economy. Documenting, digitizing, and promoting ethical sourcing as a base to good business and a healthy planet.” 

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Aiding indigenous artists 

As a designer during the pandemic, Adriana has been working to provide more opportunities for indigenous artists. 

Aiding indigenous artists during Covid-19 has been at the forefront of Adriana’s business endeavors. She is focusing on connecting artists with wholesale clients who want to buy wholesale directly from the artists and make exclusive collections for them. 

“The main talking point is innovation,” she says. Finding new ways for local artisans to distribute their works. She encourages entrepreneurs who believe in ethical relationships to consider purchasing wholesale from indigenous artists and to support authentic cultural designs directly from the artists. 

Authentic Mexican creations (Photo courtesy of Adriana Pavon)

Adriana is also working on a new line of collections that will be aligned with people and planet-friendly actions. She plans to use this line to support various educational opportunities for indigenous women and is looking exclusively for women investors to launch the line. 

“I feel [women investors] would better understand the importance of this collection,” says Adriana, “so I’m waiting to fill the last 3 spots available.” 

Additionally, purchases made through Mexico Culture & Pride’s online shop, Tekiosk, will go toward aiding indigenous artists during Covid-19 who have been financially impacted by the pandemic. These purchases will help continue to support vulnerable indigenous communities so that they can stay safe at home.