Microaggressions Directed to Hispanic Students
It is sometimes thought that only Black people are the recipient of racialized comments. But this is not true. All racial minorities are subject to differentism and racial microaggressions. Here is a list experienced by Hispanic students from other students:
- “It’s nice that you live with both parents.”
- “Does your dad live at home?”
- “At home do you and your family speak English?”
- “Are you Mexican?”
- Assuming I speak Spanish
- Speaking Spanish to me even though we have never met
- Assuming I “Latin dance”
- Expecting me to know how to dance
- Assuming I play soccer
- Trying to pronounce my name with a “Spanish” accent
- Asking me to say something in Spanish
- Telling me my Spanish sounds sexy or amazing
- Asking me to make rice and beans or to cook another Latino dish
- Asking me whether I dream in Spanish
- “Are you adopted?”
- Asking why I like spicy food
- Not being acknowledged by a new arrival when in a group of White students
- Being asked several times whether I understood lab instructions
- Being pushed to say where I am really from
“Trevor” wrote, “The microaggressions I have received make me feel devalued and cause me to question my culture. The perception of others has a huge impact on how I perceive my culture, so when one questions or threatens that, it can be very problematic. I get angry.”
“Alicia” said, “I felt anger and disliked when these microaggressions occurred. Right now, though, I am in a different place and can brush them off.”
Microaggressions Directed to Asian Students
The following list has been experienced by Asian students from other students:
- “Are you adopted?”
- “Where are you really from?”
- “Are you taking Chinese?
- “Do you eat rice all the time here at school, too?”
- “What kind of Asian are you?”
- “Are you a math major?”
- “Are you in the Music Conservatory?”
- “Is English your first language?”
- “This is how we do that in America.”
- “Your eyes are big for a Chinese person.”
- “You’re Asian? Makes sense that you’re smart.”
- “You’re half Indian? So you like curry?”
- When dating White men: “I really like you but my parents can’t know” or “We can date but it can’t be serious.”
- Being accused of stealing when I was the only minority in my dorm suite.
Off campus, Asian students have experienced these:
- “Asian babies are not cute like White babies.”
- “You don’t dress Asian.”
- “Mixed people are so unique; that is what makes them pretty.” Or: “I just don’t like Asian people that way.”
- Asking whether I know some person in Japan when someone finds out that I am part Japanese
- Speaking to me in Chinese or Korean without asking whether I speak either of those languages
- Bowing in interactions with me based on the assumption that I am Asian and not Asian American
- Expressing annoyance about “looking Asian” in a picture in which a non-Asian person is squinting
- “I know an Asian woman who looks just like you.”
Caroline writes about the “Where are you from?” question (#2), which, she says, is really asking what race or ethnicity one is: “I have found that the question has gone from something that I loved answering to a question that almost immediately puts me on edge, because I know what the person is really wanting to know, and once I answer, I feel as if they think they know who I am, based solely on my face. I am proud of my mixed identity, but when people constantly ask me where I am from, I feel like an exhibit, a peculiarity, just something that has to be figured out.”
“Alexa” is also mixed—partly White and partly Japanese. In addition to comments based on her partly Japanese look, it is common for her to be identified as not White enough nor Asian enough to fit either category. This implies, she writes, that she is below the standard of both categories.
Alexa’s reaction to the microaggressions she has received is that “more often than not I feel sad and disappointed because I realize that they stem from people not understanding me as a whole person and jumping to conclusions based on social stereotypes. When friends comment on my appearance, they are unintentionally dubbing me as an outsider who is below the standard of normalcy. This creates doubt about my inherent worth as a human being, a doubt that is made worse by the presence of Christianity within the relationship. When people in positions of authority use their authority to justify microaggressions, I get angry, especially when they are in the church. Their microaggressions raise the question of how to maintain peace with those who do not realize the deep-seated harm they are causing. I usually choose to keep anger to myself, because I see that it would be a losing battle to say something, a battle that would create division where unity is needed. But keeping anger to myself takes a toll on my sense of worth, because it makes me wonder whether what I do could be done better by a person who is unhindered by race.”
On Being a Minority Student
“Annie” reflects on her experience as a minority student: “We minority students all have different experiences on campus, and, sadly, a lot of them are hurtful, due to the fact that too often we are recipients of insults, shockingly ignorant remarks, microaggressions, and statements that devalue or completely invalidate our home culture or ethnic makeup. I think that we humans like to put people into familiar boxes or categories, and many students on campus, most of them White, don’t have very articulate or well-informed boxes to place minority students in. There is not a lot of explicit racism on campus, but implicit racism bleeds out through subtle microaggressions, often masked in the confusing cover of humor. Microaggressions are a type of bullying. They may be camouflaged or partly unintentional, but the feelings of being labeled as weird or ‘less than’ sting. It is difficult to be studying, working, and living on a campus where you don’t feel welcome due to something about your background that you cannot control.”
Trevor states, “Being a male of color on campus is no easy task.”
As a result of the microaggressions he has received, Kyler says, “The most prevalent emotion that I have felt throughout my time at college is being misunderstood.”
“Ethan’s” take on microaggressions is that “they obviously make people uncomfortable and therefore cause people to stay clear of racial discussion.” About the racial climate on campus, Ethan says that “there is a large amount of spoken and unspoken tension. Many times when race is talked about on campus, White people are made to seem inherently and extremely evil. Black people are thought to be both an attraction and a liability. These make it difficult for positive discussions on race to occur.”
When “Asha” tried to remember some of the many microaggressions she had experienced, she found that she could not state them verbatim. It was as if, she said, her “brain purged them after I vented or fumed in the moment, in order for me to cope and not grow bitter.”
Caroline wonders, “Do I have a right to be upset by these seemingly small things or am I making a big deal out of nothing? Do I need to put aside my own feelings and be accommodating so that other people feel comfortable?” She also asks, in a different vein, “Do I owe a response when asked questions that White people would not normally be asked?”
On Being White
In listening to the feelings of minorities about the microaggressions they have experienced, I could not help but ask myself, “How would I feel if I were a minority who was the recipient of them?” After a period of time I think I would find it exhausting to have to invest emotional energy in dealing with the microaggressions. With Annie, I might feel very unknown and, again with her, ask, “Why am I at a school where there are all these White people who don’t understand and say dumb things?” Perhaps I would wonder whether other students know what they are doing. But as soon as I wondered this I would think of the distinction between genuine and culpable ignorance. With the former, one cannot help being ignorant, but with the latter, one is responsible for being ignorant. I might think, “Why don’t they know better? Why haven’t they thought of the Golden Rule and asked themselves how they would feel if they were Black, Hispanic, Asian, or some other minority?”
I have sometimes been the recipient of unkind remarks, but never have I been the recipient of a remark based on my being White, nor am I ever likely to be as long as I inhabit a predominantly White culture. A fair share of my whiteness consists of the fact that I have not experienced the microaggressions that minority people have experienced. In particular:
- No one has ever touched my hair because they are curious about it.
- No one has ever asked to touch my hair because they want to know what it feels like.
- No one has ever assumed that I like a certain kind of music. People always ask, “What kind of music do you like?”
- No one has ever commented on the way I talk.
- I have never heard car doors being locked when someone of a different race drives by me.
- I have never seen people cross the street when they see me.
- No one has ever directed a racial slur toward me.
- No one has asked me whether I was a college professor because I am White.
- No one has ever presumed that I speak for all White people.
- No one has ever asked me whether English is my first language.
- No one has made assumptions about the food I eat because I am White.
- No one has made a comment about how I look because of my skin color or facial configuration.
- No one has expressed untoward curiosity about the culture of which I am a part.
- No one has stared at me as I walk around campus as though I don’t belong.
- I have never been made to feel “less than” because of my race.
- I have not been fearful of being the recipient of racially motivated remarks.
- I have not had to invest emotional energy in dealing with comments based on the fact that I am White.
- Part of my having white privilege involves my not being the recipient of microaggressions.
- I am usually not aware that I am not the recipient of microaggressions.
This last point needs some unpacking. Part of what is involved in my being White is that I have not been aware that I am White. My being White has felt normal to me. This is because I am part of the White majority in the U.S. Moreover, in the White schools and churches I have attended, and in my family of origin, I have not been taught to recognize my feeling of normalcy, nor to be aware of the fact that no one has ever slurred me for being White. I might have been aware of this last fact if I had been taught that minorities are sometimes slurred. But I had not been taught this, either. As a result, I came to regard my being White, and with it the fact of not having been the recipient of microaggressions, as an “unearned asset which I can count on cashing each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious,” to use the words of Peggy McIntosh in her classic article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
It may be, too, that some people will regard the whole subject of racial microaggressions, and with it the talk of race itself, as unnecessary, perhaps even harmful, to racial harmony.
I am no longer oblivious about microaggressions. The invisible has become visible to me. Yet, I tend to go through my days largely forgetting that minorities go through their days having to field comments that make them feel unwelcome and disvalued.
I forget, too, that because it is—to use Trevor’s words—“no easy task to be a person of color” on campus, minorities face challenges stemming from realities that I take for granted: a skin color that is not perceived as “other,” a stable sense of self-worth, welcoming acceptance by those of a different race, an unchallenged cultural identity, conversations that are free of unwarranted assumptions about me. I can be confident and comfortable, whereas minorities experience uncertainty and distress.
What to Do?
Perhaps some White people will respond to these lists of microaggressions by wanting to clam up when talking to a person of color for fear of offending them with a stray remark. However, one need not have such intense fear. There are things one can keep in mind when talking to a minority person. Here are a few:
- Think of the Golden Rule: imagine that you are a different color or race and ask how you would feel if you were the recipient of a particular question or statement.
- Exhibit welcoming acceptance.
- Curb your curiosity. Do not try to find out what “box” to put someone in.
- Do not assume that you are normal and that the other is not.
- For those who identify as Christian: picture yourself acting with the same care and respect that Jesus would display.
Actually, these are things to keep in mind when talking to anyone. The point is to treat others, whether like us or not, with the same sensitivity and respect with which we would want to be treated.
It may be, too, that some people will regard the whole subject of racial microaggressions, and with it the talk of race itself, as unnecessary, perhaps even harmful, to racial harmony. If we simply treat everyone equally, they might say, the issue of race in the U.S. will be resolved. However, this overlooks the fact that minorities continue to be deeply hurt by microaggressions, even more so, Donald Wing Sue has found, than when they are the object of overt and hateful attacks. In order for minorities to be treated equally, microaggressions must be eliminated from interactions with them. Since people often are unaware of their microaggressions, they must learn about them. One good way to do this is to listen empathetically to those who have been recipients of microaggressions, either in one-on-one encounters or by reading their stories.
Author’s note: My thanks to the twenty-five students and former students who contributed to this article. I changed the names of those who are quoted.