Death by a Thousand Cuts

What are the historical roots of microaggressions against Asian Americans? In this important article, published in “Health Matters,” psychiatrist Dr. Warren Ng lays out what microaggressions are and what its history is.

The article is, unfortunately, timely because there has been a tragic surge in anti-Asian sentiment across the US. Hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in cities across the nation have increased 169% in the first quarter of 2021 over the same period in 2020, according to a recent analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. These incidents are in the media but the AAPI community has experienced violent racism as well as microaggressions for years, in fact, for hundreds of years.

The article mentions “Derald Wing Sue, M.S., Ph.D., a professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, whose books and research have focused on race, defines microaggressions as slights and invalidations that people of color experience in their day-to-day interactions with well-intentioned individuals. Microaggressions aimed at AAPIs (such as asking “Where are you really from?” or commenting “You speak English so well.”) are largely manifestations of harmful stereotypes that consistently view Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners, the model minority, and the yellow peril — the belief that Asians (particularly East Asians) pose a danger to Western values, power, and culture.”

And continues with, “Microaggressions are really meant to make people feel like lesser human beings,” says Dr. Warren Ng, medical director of outpatient health at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and director of clinical services for the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. ‘There’s another term for microaggressions: Death by a thousand cuts. I think that description really does speak to the cumulative effects.’”

Disarming Microaggressions is SunShower’s newest e-Learning course. It is the result of a collaboration with Dr. Derald Wing Sue and teaches his strategies for speaking up and interrupting or countering microaggressions in the moment or afterwards.

Dr. Ng starts with what he calls the root of it all, “the yellow peril stereotype”. The idea was that Asians were taking away opportunities from “real” Americans who were already there. In order to keep them in their place, laws were enacted to take away their freedoms, rights and families. Dr. Ng mentions the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, the murder of Vincent Chin, post-9/11 scapegoating of Muslim Americans, and other instances.

And today, through the pandemic, it continues. “We’ve felt a universal sense of loss, mourning, and stress during this period of COVID-19. The question is “What do you do with those feelings, and that discomfort, and that difficulty?” You can choose to see it as something that we as a human race are all going through. Or you can try to blame someone for it. Through scapegoating, you find a target and then dehumanize them, which allows you to remove your emotions and your feelings from your actions, because you almost feel justified.

It’s happened repeatedly throughout history. How does something as little as name calling lead to something like murder? That seems like a big jump. But there’s a pathway to that action and understanding where microaggressions, racism, dehumanization, objectification, stereotyping, and all of those things lead to us distancing ourselves and our humanity from that other person who is a human being. The more that they are not a human being, the more that we’re able to feel that we can do things to them because they’re not the same as you and I.”

We recommend you read the entire article and then Test Drive our course, Disarming Microaggressions with Dr. Derald Wing Sue. It’s won awards and been recognized as an excellent resource.

Lastly, Dr Ng shares, “How To Be an Ally: 10 Ways a Non-AAPI Person Can Champion Justice and Help Combat Microaggressions:

  • Do the work by reading about the history of racism and microaggressions.
  • Do the work by reading about the history of racism and microaggressions.
  • Reach out and listen to the experiences of people of color or marginalized groups.
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable because that is a sign that you are doing the work. Accepting the status quo can trap you into being a part of discriminatory systems.
  • Practice compassion for yourself because a lot of the work will be making mistakes and continuing to learn new skills of allyship — and unlearning behaviors that perpetuate microaggressions.
  • Work to change perceptions by acknowledging your own implicit bias and where you may lack awareness.
  • Work to change behaviors and speak up in your own circles when you hear microaggressions or derogatory language.
  • Join inclusion groups to get out of an echo chamber. Surround yourself with people who share different life experiences and who can also learn from yours.
  • Take a course in bystander training so you’re better equipped to respond to racist incidents. The Hollaback! training encourages the use of the 5 Ds: distract, delegate, delay, direct, and document. The information can be found here.
  • Sponsor members of marginalized groups who are underrepresented. This may be supporting an AAPI peer or co-worker and advocating for them to reach management or senior levels — positions that are often limited to people of the majority race.
  • Read the Guide to Allyship.”

More From Our Blog…

Inclusive Hiring Practices

Inclusive Hiring Practices

These days, organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit, hire and retain employees. The pandemic has shifted the goalposts for millions of people, if not relocated them to entirely new playing fields (sorry to stretch the metaphors). That’s why...

read more
When Unconscious Bias Training Does More Harm Than Good

When Unconscious Bias Training Does More Harm Than Good

When I talk about our unconscious bias Workshops via Zoom or Defeating Unconscious Bias, our online e-Learning course, I always emphasize that our approach starts with raising awareness and then adds skills that everyone can practice to interrupt bias. So it was...

read more
The Business Case for DEI: Why Organizations Fall Short

The Business Case for DEI: Why Organizations Fall Short

It seems like there are new articles everyday announcing an organizations’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. You can see the statements on their websites. “We stand for….” or “Our commitment is to…”Many believe that creating a more diverse and inclusive...

read more
14 Microaggressions LGBTQ People Deal With All The Time

14 Microaggressions LGBTQ People Deal With All The Time

If I step on your toe, even if it was unintentional, it still hurts. This is a key point as we consider the challenge of microaggressions. Intention is only part of the story, and it’s not the most important part - impact is where we need to look. "When you’re an...

read more
Dr. Sue’s article in Training Magazine!

Dr. Sue’s article in Training Magazine!

Training Magazine has published Dr. Sue’s article, Disarming Workplace Microaggressions through Microinterventions. READ HERE. In the article, Dr. Sue defines microaggressions as the everyday slights, put-downs, insults and indignities that marginalized group members...

read more
Remote Learning and Microaggressions

Remote Learning and Microaggressions

In these COVID-19 pandemic times, we are facing a new area of concern with regard to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion—the remote learning environment. With so many children out of their physical classrooms and engaging in classes via online learning, many parents are...

read more
On Microaggressions and Their Impact

On Microaggressions and Their Impact

As SunShower launches our new course, Disarming Microaggressions with Derald Wing Sue Ph.D., we’re grateful to see microaggressions gaining wider attention in the media. Michelle Singletary explores common misconceptions about race and inequality in her 10-part series...

read more