Diagnosis: Racial Battle Fatigue


This blog entry aims to provide awareness on “Racial Battle Fatigue” and “Microaggressions”. I hope that this information proves useful to you.

Racial battle fatigue develops in African Americans and other people of color much like combat fatigue in military personnel, even when they are not under direct (racial) attack. Unlike typical occupational stress, racial battle fatigue is a response to the distressing mental/emotional conditions that result from facing racism daily (Smith, 2004).

Examples of this daily racism include: Racial slights, recurrent indignities and irritations, unfair treatments, including contentious classrooms, and potential threats or dangers under tough to violent and even life-threatening conditions (Smith, 2004).

A growing body of literature suggests that stress-related diseases result from the fact that African Americans have to keep activated a physiological response, originally evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but now “switched on” constantly to cope with chronic racial microaggressions/macroaggressions (Smith, 2004).

Microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership (people of color, women, etc.) (Sue, 2010)

There are three forms of microaggressions:

Microassaults are conscious, deliberate, and either subtle or explicit racial, gender, or sexual – orientation biased attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that are communicated to marginalized groups through environmental cues, verbalizations, or behaviors. They are meant to attack the group identity of the person or to hurt/harm the intended victim through name – calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discriminatory actions (as cited in Miller & Garran, 2008; Nelson, 2006).

Microinsults are characterized by interpersonal or environmental communications that convey stereotypes, rudeness, and insensitivity and that demean a person ’ s racial, gender, or sexual orientation, heritage, or identity. Microinsults represent subtle snubs, frequently outside the conscious awareness of the perpetrator, but they convey an oftentimes hidden insulting message to the recipient of these three groups (Sue, 2010).

Microinvalidations are characterized by communications or environmental cues that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of certain groups, such as people of color, women, and LGBTs. In many ways, microinvalidations may potentially represent the most damaging form of the three microaggressions because they directly and insidiously deny the racial, gender, or sexual-orientation reality of these groups (Sue, 2010).

Microaggression examples:

Microaggression – “I am not racist. I have black friends.”
Message – I am immune to racism because I have friends of color.

Microaggression – “You are a credit to your race.”
Message – People of color are generally not as intelligent as Whites.

Microaggression – “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”
Message – Denying a person of color’s racial/ethnic experiences.

Microaggression – Dismissing an individual that brings up race/culture in a school/work setting.
Message – Leave your cultural baggage outside.

If you would like more examples of microaggressions go to www.microaggressions.com. This is a user driven website that allows individuals to post the microaggressions that they experience daily.

Broken Silence: Conversations about Race by African American Faculty and Graduate Students edited by Darrell Cleveland. Chapter 16 – Black Faculty Coping with Racial Battle Fatigue: The Campus Racial Climate in a Post-Civil Rights Era by William A. Smith (2004)

Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation by Derald Wing Sue (2010)

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