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Domestic Violence and Abuse

How unintentional but insidious bias can be the most harmful


JUDY WOODRUFF: Tonight, we bring you another
conversation in our series, Race Matters/Solutions, during a week when racial tensions on campus
have led to protests and high-profile resignations. Special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault
sat down with Columbia University Teachers College Professor Derald Sue to learn more
about the small slights that some say are more insidious than the overt racial tensions
that can be seen and observed by all. Here’s that conversation. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Dr. Sue, thank you
for joining us. So, tell me, just what exactly is microaggression? DR. DERALD WING SUE, Teachers College, Columbia
University: Well, microaggressions are varying from being conscious, deliberate, on a continuum,
to being outside one’s level of awareness and unintentional. Microaggressions really are reflections of
world views of inclusion, exclusion, superiority, inferiority, and they come out in ways that
are outside the level of conscious awareness of an individual. When I’m asked, where were you born, and
I say, I was born in Portland, Oregon and they persist by saying, no, no, no, where
were you really born, and I will say, Portland, Oregon? And they will say, no, what country were you
born in? And I will say, the United States. They get very embarrassed. Now, this is an example that they are intending
to make a personal connection, but the hidden communication, the true world view is that
I am a perpetual alien or foreigner in my country, I am not a true American, because
true Americans only look the following way. And that’s what generates these behaviors
that are microaggressions. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you describe it
as unintentional, and yet we have seen at the University of Missouri very blatant examples
of racism. DR. DERALD WING SUE: You’re right about that. Microaggressions vary from being conscious,
deliberate, intentional, from old-fashioned racism and biased statements, to the unintended
consequences. And our studies do indicate that it’s the
hidden, unintentional forms of bias that are most damaging to people of color, and that
like, at the University of Missouri where you have people being called racial epithets
or behaviors that are going on, it actually is only the tip of the iceberg. The reason why I believe students of color,
faculty of color are reacting is such a major way is that they are experiencing a climate
that is hostile, that is full of microaggressions. These hate incidents on campus are triggering
off this discontent, pain and feeling of being silenced. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But there are critics
of your studies and the notion even of microaggression, which they say has morphed from 1970, when
it was unintentional, to now everything that happens, and that people are just being overly
sensitive. They say, if you coddle these students on
campus, how does that prepare them to live in the real world? DR. DERALD WING SUE: You know, the problem is
that believe people microaggressions are very similar to the everyday incivility and rudeness
that individuals, white Americans, experience in their day-to-day lives. They are quite different. Microaggressions for people of color are constant,
continual and cumulative. They occur to people of color from the moment
of birth to when they die. And, as a result, any one microaggression
in isolation may represent the feather that breaks the camel’s back. And people who don’t see the lived experience
of people of color and the daily onslaught that they experience tend not to believe that
it’s a major event. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You know, there is
another criticism, because this has been called — some of the things that people are called,
now they say the N-word and other things like that… DR. DERALD WING SUE: Yes. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: … is hate speech,
and that it’s protected by the First Amendment. So, isn’t that OK, given that kind of reasoning? DR. DERALD WING SUE: I think that people who say
that we are preventing individuals from free speech don’t realize, ironically, that it
is people of color that, historically, have not been able to express themselves openly
or freely without punitive actions being directed at them. And so there has to be this balance, but,
at the same time, an understanding that there are limits to free speech when it harms and
hurts people. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why do you think that
students commit microaggressions, or adults, for that matter? DR. DERALD WING SUE: That’s a good question,
and I think it goes to the heart of the matter that none of us are immune from inheriting
the racial biases of our forbearers. We have attitudes and biases that are delivered
through microaggressions. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But when some of these
microaggressions come out in the form of real hatred, is that solvable? DR. DERALD WING SUE: We can deal with that deliberately,
but the subtle forms of microaggressions are hard to prove, hard to quantify in some way,
and very difficult for us to take actions against because people oftentimes don’t
perceive it as harmful and significant. You know, people oftentimes tell me that white
Americans are the enemy. And I say, no, white Americans aren’t the
enemy. White supremacy is. It’s the social conditioning of the superiority
of one group over another. And many white Americans are equally victimized,
because they have been socialized into a society that tends to imbue them with these images
that they believe in, but it’s no fault of their own. If you really reach white Americans, they
can become valuable allies. One of the reasons why our research concentrates
on the unintentional forms of microaggressions is very much what Maya Angelou said. It’s the unintentional bias that does the
greatest harm to people of color. And I oftentimes use the example that when
you look the disparities and inequities we have in education, employment and health care,
it is not due to the overt racists or the white supremacists. It is due to the well-intentioned teachers
who educate our children, employers who decide who to hire, who to retain and who to promote. And it is that — those individuals who are
unaware of their hidden biases that are having the major impact on our standard of living. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Professor Sue,
thank you for joining us. DR. DERALD WING SUE: Well, thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can find more about
microaggressions, including a video made by Professor Sue explaining how they have impacted
his life, on the Race Matters section of our Web site. That’s PBS.org/NewsHour.

Cesar Sullivan

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