Microaggressions are linked to stress for people of color, women and those who are gay and lesbian

Race, gender and sexual orientation-related stress is more than just an everyday “hassle.”

Most people can relate to feeling “stressed out” at times. These feelings may arise out of thinking that we have too much to do and not enough time to do it—or when we believe that others are making unreasonable demands of our time. Sometimes feelings of stress get triggered out of everyday hassles like traffic jams, long lines at the store or when our electronic devices aren’t working properly when we’re on a tight deadline. Interestingly, these feelings of being stressed out are often more about our own thinking about the event happening around us than the event itself! But for some groups, stressors experienced in everyday life go way beyond these kinds of commonplace hassles.

While people of color, women and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) also experience these kinds of everyday life stressors, they must also navigate the potentially damaging realities of microaggressions. In his book Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation, author, psychologist and multicultural scholar Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as the intentional and often unintentional slights and insults experienced by members of these marginalized groups. Examples include being ignored, overlooked, stereotyped, the subject of jokes—and having members of majority groups trivialize, minimize and explain away the impacts of these kinds of comments and behaviors.

Microaggressions are often experienced as a threat to one’s identity and culture and consequently can impact people’s physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing in significant ways. More than just an “act of discrimination” or one hurtful behavior perpetuated by another person, microaggressions based on race, gender, sexual orientation and other differences are often deeply connected to the realities of historical trauma and systemic oppression that can limit access to positive life outcomes for people in these target groups. This includes having to navigate and live within dominant, majority group cultural standards that impose on others notions of what is considered to be “right,” “true,” “beautiful” and “normal” — and that often associate difference with deviance. Keep in mind that some people have membership in more than one target group, so the chronic and cumulative impacts of microaggressions can be even more significant for them.

Unlike more blatant, overt and obvious forms of racism, sexism and heterosexism—microaggressions are insidious and are usually invisible to many people. Examples of microaggressions include saying “I don’t see color” and “racism is a thing of the past and people need to just get over it.” Making microaggressions visible is an important part of addressing the stress and impacts related to these issues.

Michigan State University Extension provides resources and workshops focused on issues of social and emotional health and wellbeing—as well as ways to address issues related to microaggressions and other areas of diversity and multiculturalism.

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