Electronic Theses and Dissertations


Language as Microaggression: the New Lexicon of American Racism


Juan Thurmond

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Southern Studies

First Advisor

Zandria Robinson

Second Advisor

Kirk Johnson

Third Advisor

Jeffery Jackson


There are countless occasions where marginalized groups bear witness to language-based discriminatory practices. Language, as defined here, is a species of symbolism. After reviewing the sociological literature, the term "microaggressions" appears to best describe the phenomena in its everyday occurrences. Microaggressions are "the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group" (Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007; Sue, 2010). Sue classifies microaggressions into three forms: microassaults, microinsults, microinvalidations. The purpose of the project was tri-fold. By an analogous process of inference and conjecture, I demonstrate how Sue's taxonomy of microaggressive forms are grades of subjective intensity that are presupposed, if not conceptually integrated. First, an overview of the theory of double consciousness and the literature on microaggressions is presented. Six participants were interviewed, analyzed and then classified into Sue's taxonomy. Responses indicated that microaggressions are real despite their subtle, phantasmal and illusory nature. Additional findings suggest that Sue's microaggressive forms may not only be categorical, but also the locus of a proposition, or 'lure for feeling.' Implications for these subtle intensities are considered, then compared and contrasted with a transmutated concept of Du Boisian double consciousness to demonstrate through a theory of perception the limitations of Sue's Microaggression Process Model. Examples from popular culture are considered throughout the study for added clarity.

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