Counseling Keys

How counseling and its mental health focus aids in faster healing, recovery, adaptation, and overall satisfaction in career, family, and other relationships in one’s life.

Confronting Hidden Forms of Discrimination

Discrimination is real, but is there something you can do to disarm it?

Discrimination, racism and intolerance are a lot like holding a grudge. The grudge-holder remains steadfast in their conviction and refuses to understand another point of view or to engage in any type of connection. But what about the stealth grudge-holder? You know--the person that CLAIMS they're not upset but continues to give little jabs anyway.


Multicultural counselors have a name for stealth forms of discrimination. They call it microaggressions and it's very real and quite toxic. As you'd imagine, it's one thing when someone you love or care about is still stewing about an incident while claiming they are over it, but it's a whole other thing when your boss or Chairman of the Board is launching gestures and double-talk at you that are loaded with the equivalent annihilation power of the atomic bomb. Yet you're in a double-bind because nothing has really been said, so you can't prove the existence of the passive-aggressive poison in the room. Worse, the person responsible for such behavior is probably just as unaware. Hence, "micro"aggressions.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.


Numerous studies have been conducted to reveal how oblivious people are to their prejudices. Perhaps you'll recall the "Candid Camera" episode that showed a woman walking down a street with a purse on her arm as several staged teenagers walked passed her. The teenagers were culturally different but dressed in identical clothes. As you might guess (even though the woman claimed not to be "prejudiced"), the woman placed the purse on her opposite shoulder when she saw the Black and Latino teenagers approaching. Sandra Bullock does a good job portraying a similar scene in the excellent, make-you-think movie "Crash."


So, what can you do to become more aware of your own unconscious prejudices in order to stop perpetuating microaggressions? First, take a moment to really ask yourself some questions--deeply ask yourself. For instance, how do you feel about people of color, people of other religious views, people of different sexual preferences and identities? How do you feel about intermixed relationships? How can you identify with the experiences and challenges facing differing groups of people?


If you came up with some prejudices, here's something to consider. A lot of people are talking about the law of attraction--the idea that what you believe and think about will be manifested. This is the basis of the film, "The Secret." Well, if the law of attraction is real (in sports psychology it works--you visualize the goal and see yourself completing it), and it's true that many of our prejudices are unconscious (which has been validated through enormous amounts of research), wouldn't it be valuable to unlock your prejudices and change them so that you can stop manifesting in others the very behaviors you fear? In other words, rid yourself of bias and prejudice and you'll attract genuine caring and increased support in your life.

Kimberly Key is past division president of the American Counseling Association and author of Ten Keys to Staying Empowered in a Power Struggle.

more...

Subscribe to Counseling Keys

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.