Teachers, consider the possibility that you may unconsciously commit racial microaggressions in the classroom? Watch this short video, titled 'The Invisible Discriminator' - Stop. Think. Respect. This Public Service Announcement provides clear examples of microaggressions in everyday life. Racial microaggressions such as these may occur across all types of interracial communications; however, those that have the potential for the greatest harm are those perpetrated by majority culture individuals toward persons in disempowered racial groups.
According to Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Psychology and Education in TC's Counseling Psychology program in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, racial microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults that potentially have harmful psychological impact on the target person or group”
Here are two ways you can reduce racial microaggressions in the classroom
Racial Spotlighting and Racial Ignoring are two types of racial microaggressions. According to Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews, Racial Spotlighting is a where students of color perceive that their White peers and teachers focus uninvited attention on them to give an expert opinion on racial issues simply because they identify or are identified as members of that racial group.
This negative or unwanted attention creates physical and psychological discomfort which limits students' engagement in the learning process. In contrast to Racial Spotlighting is Racial Ignoring. This occurs when students of color do not receive any acknowledgment or recognition by White teachers or students.
You can reduce racial microaggressions in the classroom through self-reflection. Self reflection is defined as meditation or serious thought about one's character, actions, and motives. Let's begin here.
Ask yourself, “Do I call on students of color only when the topic is related to their race or ethnicity, expect them to be experts on any experiences beyond their own or ask them to speak for their entire racial or ethnic group? "
If you do, this is racial spotlighting. For example, when slavery was discussed in history or English class, one student said, "It always makes me feel uncomfortable being the only African American student in the classroom.... like, it feels weird because people ask me questions about it, and like, how do you figure that I would know more about it? I'm learning the same thing you are, and it just makes me feel funny." This message conveys to the African American student that the teacher deems him unworthy of providing anything valuable to the class discussion unless it is about his race/ethnicity.
Ask yourself, "Do I ignore or neglect to acknowledge comments made by students of color?" "Do I ignore or neglect to acknowledge the identities and experiences of students of color?"
If you do, this is racial ignoring. This occurs when students of color do not receive any acknowledgment or recognition by White educators or students. For example, an African American student and a White student make the same comment, but the White student receives affirmation from the teacher after speaking. This message conveys to the African American student that the teacher deems him unworthy of providing anything valuable to the class discussion because of his race/ethnicity.
As long as racial microaggressions remain hidden, invisible, unspoken and excused as innocent slights with minimal harm, people will continue to insult, demean, alienate, and oppress marginalized groups. Therefore, it is incumbent upon educators to make every effort recognize and address racial microaggressions in our schools.
Stay informed for more ways to reduce racial microaggressions in the classroom in my next blog.
Written by Gwendolyn R.Y. Miller, M.S.Ed.
Studies show that racial microaggressions have harmful consequences for students of color
Although they may seem like insignificant slights, or banal and trivial in nature, studies show that racial microaggressions have powerful harmful consequences for students of color. They have been found to: (a) assail the mental health of recipients, (b) create a hostile and invalidating campus climate, (c) perpetuate stereotype threat, (d) create physical health problems, (e) saturate the broader academic environment with cues that signal devaluation of social group identities, (f) lower academic productivity and problem solving abilities, and (g) are partly responsible for creating inequities in education.
Teacher's ability to understand racial microaggressions is essential for minority students’ general positive orientation towards school, classroom engagement, pro-social conduct, and scholastic achievement. While it is almost impossible to eliminate all the atmospheric threats and racial assaults that students of color encounter in academic institutions, instructors have a responsibility to create academic environments that are as free of racial bias as possible. Successful attenuation of these threats and corresponding success depends on schooling strategies that reduce racial microaggressions.
Written by Gwendolyn Miller
Studies strongly support the idea that racial tension in the classroom can be partially alleviated by improving student-teacher interactions.
After reading the article, White Students No Longer To Be Majority In School, it is clear that teachers need to know how to navigate difficult dialogues on race and racism in the classroom. However, tension, discomfort, and an unsatisfactory resolution to the difficult dialogues leave students feeling attacked or invalidated, frustrated, and exhausted.
Derald W. Sue, a psychology professor at Columbia University, suggests the following basic principles as guidelines for teachers facilitating difficult dialogues about race: (a) legitimize the discussion of race, (b) validate the feelings of the participants in class, (c) accept the different racial reality from students of color, (d) demonstrate a comfort level in addressing race and racism, and (e) use a direct approach to manage the discussion. These suggestions encourage teachers to participate in open and honest discussions about race and racism in a manner that enhances racial sensitivity. Open and honest discussions about race and racism may help promote the emotional health and school-connectedness of minority students and encourage successful negotiation of the racial tensions inherent in teacher-student interactions in the classroom.
by Gwendolyn Miller