The Origins of Prejudice + Microaggressions Explored

Hey Soul Fam!

This week during Thankful Thursday we will be discussing the origins of prejudice, the documentary A Class Divided, and microaggressions. First we will be talking about the psychological origins of prejudice. What are the theories that surround this topic? What do they say about how prejudice is formed? Then we will quickly go over our documentary of the week. Last but not least, we will be exploring in depth the concept of microaggressions. This is a topic that I believe many people have never really discussed, but it definitely needs some light shone on it. So, that being said, we will be exploring quite a few concepts this week, so buckle up kids!

The origins of prejudice can be found across various psychodynamic theories. We're going to discuss some of these origins by going over what these theories are and what they actually mean. First is the social identity theory which states that we all have a need for positive self-regard, and this need fuels motivational and cognitive biases in social perception aimed at helping us feel good about ourselves. This theory states that there are 2 ways that this can be achieved- either by one’s own achievements or by the groups to which one belongs to. In instances where one has not achieved anything, positive self-regard may be achieved by thinking about one’s social identity. People will often try to restore their self-regard by considering their inclusion to one or more groups that are highly regarded in society. In doing so, they can increase their low self-esteem, and meet their strong need (a need that we all have, if you remember Maslow’s hierarchy) for a high self-esteem. In this system, people are more likely to naturally partition their social environment into “us” and “them” groupings. People are also motivated to perceive their groups as superior to other groups on important, valued dimensions. This is how bias is created in favor of their own groups, and against outgroups. The theory also suggest that one way to increase one’s positive feelings about one’s ingroup, is to negatively evaluate all other outgroups. Yet, one can be prejudiced without engaging in negative derogation by simply favoring your own ingroup. For those of you not sure of the terms intergroup, ingroup and outgroup, intergroup means within the group, ingroups are ones that you belong to whereas outgroups are the ones you don't belong to.

There is also the optimal distinctiveness theory which suggest that our social motives are governed by an alternating tension between our need to be our own unique person and our need to belong in groups. This theory suggest that it is bad for us to be too extreme for our needs for uniqueness and belonginess. In these cases, an individuals sense of worth and security is at risk, and this motivates the person to find groups that can help provide a balance between these opposing needs. This theory predicts that we will feel isolated and alone if we feel strong uniqueness at the expense of belonginess. Yet, too much enmeshment also has its negative consequences. For instance, if one was to allow their social identity to fall into the background in favor of belonginess, there will be an increased tendency to evaluate the outgroups in terms of shared ingroup stereotypes about the outgroups. One reason why exclusive groups are so valued, is because they tend to provide just the right balance of uniqueness and belonginess.

The scapegoat theory states that the likelihood of intergroup conflicts is often tied to the economic conditions, and that when times get tough economically, people are more likely to take out their frustrations on an outgroup. This theory states that when an individual is stopped from achieving a particular goal, they may feel anger, irritation, or disappointment. The anger or hostility felt may be in many ways similar to the negative emotions associated with our views of a disliked outgroup. When that happens, according to this theory, because both the frustrating issue and the outgroup arouse similar emotions, they tend to become associated in the individual’s memory. Some have argued that this theory in particular is the contributing factor to wars and conflicts that have ensued between groups from the beginning of human history.

Relative deprivation theory is an interesting one that speaks on how people tend to compare themselves to others. According to this theory, when people 1- decide that they want (x), 2- compare themselves with similar others who have (x), 3- and they feel entitled to (x), they will tend to feel deprived. This is comparing yourselves to others, and then believing that your situation is lesser than that of others. In intergroup context, the theory suggests that feelings of prejudice and hostility towards outgroups arise out of the feelings of relative deprivation with regard to that outgroup in terms of an important goal. There are two types- egotistic relative deprivation (where you compare your life to that of other individuals) and fraternal relative deprivation (how ones ingroup compares to an outgroup in regard to a desired goal).

Realistic conflict theory is tied to the relative deprivation theory, as it suggest that we only develop feelings of hostility and prejudice towards other groups if we believe that our group is at a disadvantage, relative to the outgroup in regards to an important goal. In this situation though the shared goal is complicated by scarcity, which may mean that one group will achieve it while the other does not. It was suggested that these types of cases represent realistic conflicts because they are based on competition for real resources. Thus, this theory suggest that when two groups are competing for scarce resources, feelings of hostility and prejudice towards the other groups will emerge.  

To learn more about the psychological origins of prejudice, check these out:

On to our documentary of the week: A Class Divided. For those of you who do not know who Jane Elliot is, I highly suggest you look into this woman. At one point she was an educator, but for the last almost 50 years she has been traveling the world and telling white people about themselves. This woman’s work is amazing, and her way of teaching these concepts have a way of sticking. If more white people embodied the spirit of Jane Elliot, we would live in a completely different world. There are many white people who feel as if they have no idea how to help or make changes. Honestly, be more like Jane Elliot. It really is that simple. Check her out here when she was still a teacher. You’ll learn more about her work in the earlier years as she fights against racism and oppression.

To watch A Class Divided, click here:

Now, onto the exploring microaggressions in depth as an implicit bias! What is an implicit bias though? In social psychology, an implicit bias or implicit stereotype, is a term used to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. This concept is important to know because it effects the way that people socialize in this world, and how they feel about themselves as well. There are many people that live their daily lives not realizing that they have implicit biases towards outgroups. This can be extremely damaging when one works with children in particular. Some teacher's who hold implicit biases may very well destroy the self-esteem of their students without even realizing it because of the way they implicitly stereotype them. It is important to know what our biases are, and if you'd like to find that out, you can go take the tests to find out. I will be providing a link at the bottom.

We discussed last week what a microaggression was: a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. It could also mean indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group. I wanted to explore this in depth though because there are MANY microaggressions that have become normalized in a sense within our society and I believe it is time to talk about it. Dr. Sue’s research has added greatly to the psychology of prejudice. His research was successful in naming, detailing and classifying the actual manifestations of aversive racism. This research shed light on the internal experiences of people affected by microaggressions, which was a brand new perspective at the time. One must understand that in the realm of psychology, all past research on prejudice and discrimination had focused primarily on whites' attitudes and behaviors. Dr. Sue created a vocabulary around his concept, and they are as follows:

Microassaults: Conscious and intentional actions or slurs, such as using racial epithets, displaying swastikas or deliberately serving a white person before a person of color in a restaurant.

Microinsults: Verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person's racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a colleague of color how she got her job, implying she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system.

Microinvalidations: Communications that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, white people often ask Asian-Americans where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land.

To read more about this, you can go here:

For when and how to respond to microaggressions:

For examples of microagressions:

For videos that explain microaggressions, you can go here:

Information on Implicit Bias:

If you want to test your Implicit Bias and find out whether or not you even have a bias, go and check out the Implicit Bias tests here:

Examples of Racial Microaggressions

Theme: Alien in own land. When Asian Americans and Latino Americans are assumed to be foreign-born.

Microaggression: “Where are you from?” “Where were you born?” “You speak good English.” A person asking an Asian American to teach them words in their native language.

Message: You are not American. You are a foreigner.

Theme: Ascription of Intelligence. Assigning intelligence to a person of color on the basis of their race.

Microaggression: “You are a credit to your race.” “You are so articulate.” Asking an Asian person to help with a Math or Science problem

Message: People of color are generally not as intelligent as Whites. It is unusual for someone of your race to be intelligent. All Asians are intelligent and good in Math / Sciences.

Theme: Color Blindness. Statements that indicate that a White person does not want to acknowledge race

Microaggression: “When I look at you, I don’t see color.” “America is a melting pot.” “There is only one race, the human race.”

Message: Denying a person of color’s racial / ethnic experiences. Assimilate /acculturate to the dominant culture. Denying the individual as a racial / cultural being.

Theme: Criminality –assumption of criminal status. A person of color is presumed to be dangerous, criminal, or deviant on the basis of their race.

Microaggression: A White man or woman clutching their purse or checking their wallet as a Black or Latino approaches or passes. A store owner following a customer of color around the store. A White person waits to ride the next elevator when a person of color is on it.

Message: You are a criminal. You are going to steal. You are poor. You do not belong. You are dangerous.

Theme: Denial of individual racism. A statement made when Whites deny their racial biases.

Microaggression: “I’m not a racist. I have several Black friends.” “As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.”

Message: I am immune to races because I have friends of color. Your racial oppression is no different than my gender oppression. I can’t be a racist. I’m like you.

Theme: Myth of meritocracy. Statements which assert that race does not play a role in life successes.

Microaggression: “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”

Message: People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race. People of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder.

Theme: Pathologizing cultural values and communication styles. The notion that the values and communication styles of the dominant/White culture are ideal.

Microaggression: Asking a Black person: “Why do you have to be so loud/animated? Just calm down.” To an Asian or Latino person: “Why are you so quiet? We want to know what you think. Be more verbal. Speak up more.” Dismissing an individual who brings up race or culture in work or school setting.

Message: Assimilate to dominant culture. Leave your cultural baggage outside.

Theme: Second-class citizen. Occurs when a White person is given preferential treatment as a consumer over a person of color.

Microaggression: Person of color mistaken for a service worker. Having a taxicab pass a person of color and pick up a White passenger. Being ignored at a store counter as attention is given to the White customer behind you. “You people ...”

Message: People of color are servants to Whites. They couldn’t possibly occupy high-status positions. You are likely to cause trouble and/or travel to a dangerous neighborhood. Whites are more valued customers than people of color. You don’t belong. You are a lesser being.

Theme: Environmental microaggressions. Macro-level microaggressions, which are more apparent on systemic and environmental levels

Microaggression: A college or university with buildings that are all names after White heterosexual upper class males. Television shows and movies that feature predominantly White people, without representation of people of color. Overcrowding of public schools in communities of color. Overabundance of liquor stores in communities of color.

Message: You don’t belong. You won’t succeed here. There is only so far you can go. You are an outsider. You don’t exist. People of color don’t or shouldn’t value education. People of color are deviant.

Theme: How to offend without really trying.

Microaggression: “Indian giver.” “That’s so gay.” “She welshed on the bet.” “I jewed him down.” “That’s so White of you.” “You people ...” “We got gypped.” Imitating accents or dialects others people or making fun of other cultures.


I hope this information has helped you out Soul Fam, until next week!

Sending mucho luz + amor always.


Luna Estrellas

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