What Are Some Examples of Racial Microaggressions? Skip to main content

Racial microaggressions are not merely offhand remarks or isolated incidents; they are a pervasive part of the lived experience for many individuals of color. It only reflects deeper societal prejudices and reinforces the marginalization of entire communities.

By examining a spectrum of examples from various perspectives, we can begin to understand the multiple ways in which these subtle insults manifest and affect individuals across different contexts.

In Academic Environments

A study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that nearly 50% of African American college students reported experiencing racial microaggressions on campus, which were significantly correlated with psychological distress (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, & Esquilin, 2007).

Assumptions of Inferiority

Sometimes, students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds experience microaggressions that question their abilities. For example, if a teacher is surprised when an African American student gets high grades, it reinforces stereotypes about intelligence and race.


In class discussions about race or ethnicity, some students with varied racial identities may feel singled out as if they represent their entire race. This can put an unfair burden on them to educate others or defend their perspectives.

In the Workplace

According to a 2019 report by the Center for Talent Innovation (now Coqual), professionals of color are significantly more likely than their white peers to face microaggressions at work, with 38% of Black professionals feeling that their judgment is questioned in their area of expertise.

Questioning Professional Competence

Employees from diverse racial backgrounds may be subjected to doubts about their qualifications or achievements.

A microaggression could be if a colleague attributes a person of color’s promotion to diversity quotas rather than their hard work, it undermines their skills and talent.

Cultural Nullification

Comments that dismiss or ridicule cultural traditions, like making fun of a colleague’s traditional attire or lunch, can alienate and minimize the cultural identities of individuals of color.

In Healthcare Settings

Research from the American Psychological Association notes that patients of various ethnicities are less likely to be given appropriate diagnostic tests or to be prescribed the best medication for their conditions, outcomes influenced by racial biases and microaggressions in clinical settings.

Stereotyping Patients

Racial microaggressions in healthcare can include making assumptions about a patient’s behavior or health based on their race. For example, presuming substance abuse without evidence can harm the patient-provider relationship and lead to misdiagnoses.


Sometimes, colleagues of diverse ethnicities in medical research teams or healthcare settings are overlooked, and their contributions aren’t properly acknowledged. This perpetuates racial hierarchies within professional environments.

In Retail and Customer Service

A survey by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that up to one-third of Black respondents felt they had been followed around stores due to their race.

Surveillance and Suspicion

Racially diverse individuals, especially Black skinned people, often report being followed or closely monitored in stores because of the assumption that they might steal. This experience reflects racial profiling practices and can be humiliating.

Service Disparities

In some situations, customers of various ethnicities may receive inferior service, such as being ignored in high-end stores or being attended to slowly in restaurants. This sends a message that their business and presence are valued less.

In Media and Entertainment

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California found that in the top 100 grossing films of 2019, 68% of all characters were white, indicating a lack of diversity and perpetuation of racial stereotypes in major media productions.

Stereotypical Portrayals

Racial stereotypes are reinforced in the media through typecast roles. This means that individuals from different racial groups are often depicted in subservient, criminal, or exoticized roles. This contributes to a culture that marginalizes them based on their race.

Erasure and Whitewashing

The lack of representation of people from diverse racial backgrounds, complex roles, or the practice of casting white actors in roles meant for people of color diminishes the visibility and narratives of diverse communities.

In Everyday Social Interactions

According to the same Pew survey, 45% of Asian Americans have been subject to jokes or slurs pertaining to their race or ethnicity.

Backhanded Compliments

Comments like “You’re pretty for a Black girl” or “You’re so articulate” imply that the speaker holds prejudiced views about what people with varied racial identities can be or achieve.

Denial of Racial Reality

Statements that dismiss systemic racism, such as “I don’t see color,” invalidate the experiences of people of color and the real challenges posed by racial discrimination.

The Cumulative Impact

The snowballing effect of these microaggressions goes beyond immediate discomfort. They contribute to a broader sense of alienation and invisibility among Individuals from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

It simply reinforces the message that they do not belong or are valued less in society. The stress of navigating a world where one’s racial identity is constantly under scrutiny can have profound psychological and physical health impacts.

Moving Forward

To address racial microaggressions, it’s crucial to recognize them and take action. This requires not only individual awareness and change but also systemic efforts to challenge and dismantle structures that perpetuate racial biases and inequalities.

By actively valuing the experiences of people with varied racial identities and committing to personal and institutional change, we can begin to counteract the harmful effects of racial microaggressions and build a society that truly respects and celebrates diversity. If you find yourself unable to address personal challenges independently, we offer the convenience of book psychologist appointment with licensed psychologists through our Online Therapy Professionals Services.

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