Microaggression is the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as mostly non-physical aggression coined by Chester M. Pierce in 1970. Micro-inequities and micro-affirmations were additionally named by Dr. Mary Rowe of MIT in 1973, in her work she also describes micro-aggressions inclusive of sex and gender. Sue et al. (2007) describe microaggressions as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
Microagression usually involves demeaning implications and other subtle insults against minorities, and may be perpetrated against those due to gender, sexual orientation, and ability status. According to Pierce, “the chief vehicle for proracist behaviors are microaggressions. These are subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put-downs’ of blacks by offenders”. Microaggressions may also play a role in unfairness in the legal system as they can influence the decisions of juries.
Microaggressions can take a number of different forms, for example, questioning the existence of racial-cultural issues, making stereotypic assumptions, and cultural insensitivity. Some other types of microaggressions that have been identified include Colorblindness (e.g., “I don’t think of you as Black. You are just a normal person”), Denial of personal bias (e.g., “I’m not homophobic; I even have gay friends.”), and Minimization of racial-cultural issues (e.g., “Just because you feel alone in this group doesn’t mean that there’s a racial issue involved.”). “Colorblindness" in particular has been associated with higher levels of racism and lower levels of empathy.
The concept of racial microaggressions is one of the relative new contributions of Social Psychology to the understanding of factors that influence intergroup relations. Commonplace, public experiences or situations such as being stopped for a check-up at an airport, being ignored by a waiter/waitress at a restaurant or being assigned to a particular task by an employer, might seem irrelevant or innocuous situations under most circumstances. However, when such situations are interpreted as being linked to racial differences, they become distinct, and take on a different connotation. As a result, people subjected to them (racial minorities) may experience emotional pain or other negative feelings.
Supporters of the theory argue that racial microaggressions are reported to be common, including among people who think of themselves as being fair and nonracist, and who have received multicultural training.
According to P.C. Davis (1989), microaggression is enabled because “cognitive habit, history, and culture [has left it] unable to hear the range of relevant voices and grapple with what reasonably might be said in the voice of discrimination’s victims”.