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Understanding aggression and microaggressions by and against people of colour

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 September 2021

Monnica T. Williams*
Affiliation:
University of Ottawa, School of Psychology, Ottawa, Canada
Terence H. W. Ching
Affiliation:
University of Connecticut, Department of Psychological Sciences, CT, USA
Jade Gallo
Affiliation:
University of Connecticut, Department of Psychological Sciences, CT, USA
*
*Corresponding author. Email: Monnica.Williams@uOttawa.ca

Abstract

Efforts to understand racial microaggressions have focused on the impact on targets, but few studies have examined the motivations and characteristics of offenders, and none has examined microaggressions committed by members of racialized groups. The purpose of this study is to determine if racial microaggressions should be conceptualized as a form of aggression when committed by racialized individuals by examining the relationship between propensity to commit microaggressions and aggressive tendencies to help inform interventions. This nationwide survey recruited 356 Asian, Black and Hispanic American adults. Participants completed measures of likelihood of committing anti-Black microaggressions, aggression, negative affect, and ethnic identity. There was a significant negative correlation between ratings by diversity experts of microaggressive interactions being racist and participants’ likelihood of engaging in those same interactions. For each ethnoracial group, likelihood of committing anti-Black microaggressions was significantly positively correlated with all measures of aggression examined. The correlation between microaggressions and aggression was strongest for non-White Hispanic participants and weakest among Asian participants. A linear regression showed that aggression uniquely predicted microaggression likelihood, after controlling for respective co-variates within groups. Among non-White Hispanic participants, there was a significant positive correlation between negative affect and propensity to commit microaggressions, but this association disappeared in the regression analysis after accounting for aggression. A positive ethnic identity was not correlated with microaggression likelihood among Black participants. Findings indicate that microaggressions represent aggression on the part of offenders and constitute a form of behaviour that is generally socially unacceptable. Implications and cognitive behavioural treatment approaches are discussed.

Key learning aims

  1. (1) People of colour generally recognize that racial microaggressions are unacceptable.

  2. (2) People of colour may commit microaggressions against other people of colour.

  3. (3) Anti-Black microaggressions are correlated to aggression in perpetrators.

  4. (4) Microaggressions are not solely attributable to negative affect or low ethnic identity.

  5. (5) Therapists should address microaggressions, even when committed by people of colour.

Type
Original Research
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies

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References

Further reading

Ching, T. H. W. (2021). Culturally attuned behavior therapy for anxiety and depression in Asian Americans: addressing racial microaggressions and deconstructing the Model Minority Myth. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice. Advance online. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2021.04.006 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Sue, D. W., Alsaidi, S., Awad, M. N., Glaeser, E., Calle, C. Z., & Mendez, N. (2019). Disarming racial microaggressions: microintervention strategies for targets, White allies, and bystanders. American Psychologist, 74, 128142.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Sue, D. W., & Spanierman, L. (2020). Microaggressions in Everyday Life. Wiley.Google Scholar
Voigt, R., Camp, N. P., Prabhakaran, V., Hamilton, W. L., Hetey, R. C., Griffiths, C.M., Jurgens, D., Jurafsky, D., & Eberhardt, J. L. (2017). Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114, 6521–6526. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.17024131 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williams, M. T. (2020). Managing Microaggressions: Addressing Everyday Racism in Therapeutic Spaces. ABCT Practice Series. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780190875237Google Scholar
Williams, M. T. (2021). Microaggressions are a form of aggression. Behavior Therapy, 52, 709719. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2020.09.001 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

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