Racial Microaggression

Racial Microaggressions

What are Racial Microaggressions? What is Neo-Racism? In which forms does it occur?

At the present time, in modern society, it is unacceptable to be openly racist or discriminatory to others. However, this does not mean that racist ideas or beliefs within society decrease. Instead, minorities are experiencing discrimination in more discrete, unconscious, and subtle forms. Still, they are causing emotional distress and feelings of difference.
These less obvious forms of discrimination are called racial microaggressions. They are a new modality of racism – also known as Neo-Racism.

What is Neo-Racism?

Neo-Racism surfaces in debates about immigration, assimilation, and multiculturalism. Although its tone tends to be respectful, its intent is always to keep racial partition. Skin colour, cultural differences and national origin are factors to play a role in the levels of discrimination.

Racial Microaggressions are becoming even more relevant in the current Covid 19 Pandemic. Given that certain cultures are linked to the origins of the pandemic. Consequently, they are perceived as inferior in the mainstreaming culture.

Categories of Racial Microaggressions

Racial Microaggressions can come in 3 different categories: Microassaults, Microinsults and Microinvalidations.

  1. Microassaults: Generally Conscious. Explicit verbal or nonverbal attacks. Intended to hurt the victim through name-calling, avoidant behaviour or purposeful discriminatory actions.
  2. Microinsults: Generally Unconscious. Communications that convey insensitivity and rudeness. Demeaning a person’s racial heritage or identity.
  3. Microinvalidations: Generally Unconscious. Communications that nullify and negate the thoughts and feelings of people of colour.

To understand these categories better, it is good to look at the following examples.

Examples of Racial Microaggressions

Category Microinsult

  1. Ascription of intelligence: Assigning intelligence to a person based on their race.
    “You people always do well in school.”
    “If I see a lot of Asian students in my class, I know it’s going to be a hard class.”
  2. Second Class Citizen: People of colour are being treated as lesser beings and are not treated with equal rights. On the other hand, white people are the priority and receive better treatment.
  3. Pathologizing cultural values/communication styles: Minority cultures and values count as less desirable. Instead, the values of the dominant culture are ideal.
    e.g. Asking a black Person: “Why do you have to be so loud?”
    e.g. To an Asian person: “Speak up more”
  4. Assumptions of criminality: Presuming that a person is dangerous or criminal based on their race.
    e.g. Checking wallet/ Clutching handbag when a person of colour passes

Category Microinvalidations

  1. Alien in Own Land: Assuming that people of colour are foreigners or from a different country.
    “So where are you really from?”
    “Why don’t you have an accent?”
  2. Colour Blindness: A person does not want to acknowledge race.
    “There is only one race, that is the human race.”
    “When I look at you I don’t see Colour.”
  3. Myth of Meritocracy: Stating that race does not play a role in life successes.
    “If working hard enough, then everyone can succeed in this society.”
    “Only the most qualified person should get the job.”
  4. Denial of Individual Racism: People deny their racial biases.
    “I’m not racist, I have black friends.”
    ” As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.”

We live in a pluralistic, multicultural society. That means it is important to realize our strong role in stopping these experiences of racial Microaggression.

COPE Centre offers Multicultural Services and Counselling. For more information about the topic watch our video series on multicultural counselling.

By Astrid Wedekind


Buchanan, I. (2010). neo-racism. In A Dictionary of Critical Theory. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 Apr. 2022, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199532919.001.0001/acref-9780199532919-e-473.

Ref: Wing Sue, D et al (2007). Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life. Implications for Clinical Practice. Psychoanalytic Review, 271-278.