University Of Washington Study Links ‘Microaggressions’ To Actual Racism In White Students

Ian Miles Cheong Contributor
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A study at the University of Washington claims an empirical link between “microaggressions” and racism in white students. The study also claims that “conservative ideological beliefs” are firmly linked to racism.

Microaggressions are defined as subtle forms of bias that are not as blatant as shouting a racial slur, or openly discriminating against a person based on their race. They are claimed to emerge in everyday exchanges, which may offend ethnic minorities. In recent years, microaggressions have come to encompass other forms of “marginalization” relating to gender, sexuality, weight, and appearance.

The assumption that an Asian person enjoys eating rice could, for example, be considered a microaggression.

Led by Jonathan Kanther, a research associate professor at the University of Washington, and professors from other universities, the study found that minority students are “not just being too sensitive” in reaction to seemingly innocuous comments, which are instead motivated by racism. Indeed, these offhand remarks are said to expose underlying racist beliefs.

The paper was published in the journal Race and Social Problems. An article about the paper, which was published on the UW website, claims that it explores “the association between the likelihood of delivering microaggressions and racial prejudice.”

“Our study results offer validation to people of color when they experience microaggressions. Their reactions can’t simply be dismissed as crazy, unreasonable or too sensitive,” Kanter explained. “According to our data, the reaction of a person of color — being confused, upset or offended in some way — makes sense, because they have experienced what our data show: that people who are more likely to make these comments also are more racist in other ways.”

Speaking to The College Fix, Kanter said that older research only surveyed the experiences of minorities, but didn’t ask white people how often they engage in microaggressions. “We were motivated to develop a measure of White people’s self-reported likelihood of actually saying the things that Black students say they experience as microaggressive,” he said.

He claimed that his study focused on “microaggressive statements” deemed “possibly racist” by black students to compare to what white students found potentially offensive.

Of the statements black students who were surveyed considered to be racist were phrases like “all lives matter, not just black lives,” “racial problems in the USA are rare, isolated situations,” and “white privilege doesn’t really exist.”

The researchers then measured the alleged racial prejudice in white students with several different scales, including the “Modern Racism Scale,” “Symbolic Racism Scale,” “Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale,” and “Racial Feeling Thermometer.”

According to his findings, white students who self-reported their likelihood of microaggressing were more likely to endorse various racist attitudes, and be less positive towards black people in general. Refusing to take an individual’s race into account—or to be “color-blind”—is itself considered a form of racism.

As a result of the findings, Kantor’s study claims that it provides “empirical support that microaggressive acts are rooted in racist beliefs and feelings of deliverers, and may not be dismissed as simply subjective perceptions of the target.”

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.