California State University, Long Beach

Subtle Tones of Racism

Subtle insults toward people of color can be commonplace and delivered automatically or unconsciously. Over time, they can do measurable damage.

Even when the offender is unaware of their affronts, subtle racist remarks, jokes and assumptions are all too real and can negatively affect people of color psychologically and physically, particularly as they accumulate through the years, said Dr. Lindsay Pérez Huber, associate professor of Advanced Studies in Education and Counseling.

These subtle insults, known as ra­cial microaggressions, can be verbal, nonverbal and visual in nature.

Pérez Huber researches, teaches and writes about how Critical Race Theory can be used to explain racial microag­gressions in the daily experiences of people of color.

Pérez Huber said she focused on ra­cial microaggressions because it reso­nated with her own experiences.

“I faced low expectations in academia because of stereotypes of Latinas,” she said. “Learning about racial microaggres­sions from Dr. Daniel Solorzano (profes­sor of education at UCLA) as a graduate student allowed me to name my experi­ences. Today, we work together as col­leagues to add to that literature.”

Pérez Huber teaches graduate-level courses in the Social and Cultural Anal­ysis of Education program. A National Academies Ford Foundation Fellow, she is also a Visiting Scholar at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

Her published research argues that the concept of racial microaggressions can be a powerful tool for identifying, disrupting and dismantling the racism that marginalizes, subordinates and excludes people of color inside and out­side of the educational environment.

She co-authored, “Racial Microag­gressions as a Tool for Critical Race Re­search,” published in the journal Race Ethnicity and Education that presented a new framework for analyzing racial microaggressions – a tool that provides a useful resource for understanding “ev­eryday” racism.

“Our model addresses identifica­tion and recognition of racial microag­gressions, two important steps in taking action to challenge them.” Pérez Huber said. “We address the types and context of racial microaggressions, how and why they hap­pen, and the effects they can have on people of color, which can include increased stress and even negative health out­comes. We also examine how people of color respond to them.”

Her research draws from multiple academic disciplines to analyze racial inequities in education, the structur­al causes of those inequities, and how they mediate educational trajectories and outcomes of students of color. In addition, she examines how those stu­dents challenge and resist the oppres­sion they encounter within and outside of education.

She has conducted studies within each segment of the educational pipe­line, from K-12 schools to community colleges and four-year universities. The goal of her work is to create greater ed­ucation and life opportunities for com­munities of color.

Pérez Huber’s research looks into racial stress, excessive unexplained deaths in the African American commu­nity and other physiological tolls that people of color face living in a racist so­ciety. “People of color experience ongo­ing stress and negative health outcomes much more frequently than people in other groups,” she said.

It has been established that over time, microaggressions negatively af­fect the health and academic achieve­ment of students and faculty of color, she said.

Pérez Huber said an important compo­nent of the racial microaggressions frame­work is to examine the ways students of color at campuses throughout the United States are responding to microaggressions in order to challenge them.

“For example, students engage in ac­tivism to demand that administrations recognize racism and how it shapes their everyday experiences in higher ed­ucation institutions,” she said. “Other examples of responses are challenging racialized comments, or even institu­tional policies that can inadvertently support the marginalization of students of color.”

So, what can individuals and society do to recognize and challenge racial mi­croaggressions?

“Without recognition, there is no moving forward,” Pérez Huber said. “Higher education institutions must be proactive in engaging discussions about racism and microaggressions. They should determine how and why racial microaggressions occur, and then put policies in place to challenge them.”

At the individual level, she said countering racial microaggressions be­gins with asking questions.

“When someone says something offen­sive, you can ask the person to clarify what they meant, which prompts reflection,” she said. “It gives them the opportunity to stop and think about what they’ve said.”

Pérez Huber added that challenging racial microaggressions should not con­sistently fall on people of color.

“It’s important for all people to iden­tify and challenge racism. Remaining si­lent stops communication and contrib­utes to the inequity and injustice people of color face,” she said. “I hope that my research provides strategies to begin these important conversations with stu­dents, faculty, staff, and administrators at their institutions.”

As a leading scholar of racial micro­aggressions, Pérez Huber is in demand as a lecturer, speaker and presenter. In September, she was scheduled to lead a campus event at Santa Monica Col­lege for students, faculty and staff on racial microaggressions. She spoke at a student equity conference at El Cami­no College and gave a talk to the UCLA Principal Leadership Institute. She has also provided training for university administrators in the University of Cal­ifornia system and Colorado State Uni­versity. She has served as vice president for the Critical Race Studies in Educa­tion Association, a national organiza­tion of critical race scholars, activists and educators committed to racial jus­tice in education