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Racial microaggressions explained

Racial microaggressions explained
February 25, 2021 SEHD Communications

Racial microaggressions explained

What exactly are racial microaggressions and how can you prevent them?

You may have heard this term, but do not fully understand what it means or how it applies to you. Our critical race theory expert, Dr. Chaddrick James-Gallaway breaks it down.

“Racial microaggressions are exchanges with the unconscious or conscious intent to insult, discredit, dismiss and minimize people of color and their experiences,” James-Gallaway said.

Racial microaggressions are racism. James-Gallaway said it is important to address them as they impact the psychological and physical safety of people of color in our society.

“Racial microaggressions gave me the language to speak about my own experiences, as well as the Black community’s experience with racism in this country,” James-Gallaway said.

There are three types of racial microaggressions. Understanding each type can help you understand what to look for and how to prevent them.


James-Gallaway said microassaults are typically known as “old-fashioned” racism, but are ultimately just plain racism. Examples include telling racist jokes and mocking someone’s language or accent.


Microinsults are racist comments about a person of color’s race or heritage.

“I will use myself as an example here, ‘You are so articulate for a Black person’, ‘Why can’t all Black people be like you?’, ‘Are you here to fulfill the diversity quota?’, and the list goes on and on,” James-Gallaway said.


Microinvalidations are actions or comments that demean the lived racial realities of people of color. Examples of this include staying silent when a racist action should be addressed, or saying ‘I have friends of color so I am not racist’, or ‘I do not see color, this has nothing to do with race’.

“Saying they ‘don’t see color’ or ‘race’ is an invalidation of my existence as Black person, but also the history of racial strife that has been bestowed on Black folks and other people of color due to white supremacist racism in our society,” James-Gallaway said.

Defining racism

Understanding the definition of racism can lead to a better understanding of racial microaggressions. James-Gallaway said most definitions are ahistorical, meaning they do not typically account for how racism is and has been enacted within our society. Last summer, Kennedy Mitchum, a Black woman and graduate of Drake University requested Merriam-Webster update the definition of racism.

James-Gallaway’s definition of racism is a system of oppression based on ideologies and practices meant to disadvantage people of color at social, political, economic and individual levels.

“Racism affects people of color solely and its purpose is to harm people of color individually, institutionally, and culturally through the inaction of white supremacy,” James-Gallaway said.

As a higher education scholar, James-Gallaway has a recommendation for how institutions should address racial microaggressions. He said institutions have to come to terms with their racial history and understand how that history impacts issues of race on their campus today, but also within the surrounding communities.

“I also think courses on race and racism should be required at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” James-Gallaway said. “Not just one class either, but multiple.”

He also advocates for intergroup and intragroup dialogues, conversations where people of the same racial identity group (intragroup) or different groups (intergroup) talk about their own racial experiences.

“We all have racial experiences whether we know, or realize it, and we must discuss them,” James-Gallaway said.

As a Black faculty in higher education, James-Gallaway highlighted another term to become familiar with: racial battle fatigue, experiencing racism consistently, and repeatedly over time which leads to traumatic psychological and physiological stressors.

James-Gallaway hopes to raise awareness for racism and ignorance that leads to racial battle fatigue to make higher education, and society, a more psychologically and physically safe space for Black people specifically, and people of color generally.

Dr. Chaddrick James-Gallaway is faculty in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development. Read his article Identifying and Responding to Racial Microaggressions here

About the Writer

Heather is responsible for news coverage in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, as well as the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development.

Articles by Heather

For media inquiries, contact our Media Relations Coordinator, Ashley Green


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