Decreases in Implicit Self-Esteem Explain the Racial Impact of Microaggressions Among Asian Americans

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Asian Americans are commonly perceived as perpetual foreigners and, therefore, not “true” Americans. Asian Americans report inquiries about nationality and English abilities as the most common forms of racial microaggressions perpetrated by White Americans (Sue, 2015). Race theorists assert that these microaggressions are race-related and marginalize Asian Americans. Scholars have claimed that these subtle acts are harmful, yet only a few studies have uncovered the mechanisms by which racial microaggressions affect mental and physical well-being (Ong, Burrow, Fuller-Rowell, Ja, & Sue, 2013; Wong, Derthick, David, Saw, & Okazaki, 2013). The current study conceptualized racial microaggressions as a stressor to address the major gaps in research. Specifically, this study (a) experimentally tested the race-related nature of the microaggression event to determine whether a White American perpetrator would elicit more stress in Asian Americans compared to an Asian American perpetrator and (b) examined threats to explicit and implicit self-esteem as possible mediators of microaggression-generated stress. Findings confirmed that the race of the perpetrator did have an impact on stress among Asian Americans. In the multiple meditation analysis, experience with a White American perpetrator, compared to an Asian American perpetrator, lowered implicit self-esteem, which resulted in more stress. Implications and strategies for counseling Asian American clients are discussed.

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