Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Christina Thai, Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D.

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Microaggressions and Self-Esteem in Asian Americans: The Moderating Role of Racial Socialization

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In the United States, many individuals still experience racial discrimination (Feagin, 1991), which has been shown to be negatively associated with psychological well-being and low self-esteem, which is important to the development of how an individual perceives one’s self (Dumont & Provost, 1999; Major, Quinton, & McCoy, 2002). However, old-fashion forms of blatant racism are no longer accepted; instead, a new subtle form termed microaggressions developed. Microaggressions are covert verbal, nonverbal, or environmental messages of racial status and devaluation, which are usually measured as perceptions of microaggressions (Huynh, 2012; Sue et al., 2007). Examples of microaggressions include overlooking the racial experience or heritage of an individual and questioning where an individual is from. Although research has shown that blatant racism is associated with lower self-esteem, the relation between microaggressions and self-esteem is still unclear.

Due to the harmful consequences that arise from experiences of blatant and subtle racism, many minority families utilize racial socialization to bring awareness to and provide children with coping mechanisms for discrimination (Bowman & Howard, 1985). Racial socialization is the process of deliberately or implicitly imparting information about race, ethnicity, cultural values, and customs to younger generations, while also raising awareness of racism (Bowman & Howard, 1985; Boykin & Toms, 1985). Several different messages of racial socialization can be employed by parents such as cultural socialization (e.g., racial pride), egalitarian (e.g., appreciating other cultures), preparation for bias (e.g., coping mechanisms), and silence about race. Longitudinal studies have found that racial socialization messages dampen the negative effects of discrimination on psychological adjustment, self-efficacy, and self-esteem in African Americans (Bynum, Burton, & Best, 2007; Fisher & Shaw, 1999; Neblett et al., 2008; Wang & Huguley, 2012). Specifically, researchers found that messages of cultural socialization, egalitarian, and preparation for bias moderate or weaken the negative relation between discrimination and self-esteem  (Neblett et al., 2008). Conversely, use silence strengthens this relation (Hughes et al., 2006b; Hughes & Johnson, 2001).

Yet there has been a lack of research on the role of racial socialization in the relation between this new form of racism, microaggressions and self-esteem. Furthermore, most of the research on racial socialization focuses on the experiences of African American families even though many racial minority families other than African American  utilize this process (White-Johnson, Ford, & Sellers, 2010), such as Asian Americans (Brown & Ling, 2012). Additionally, given the relative lack of research on racial socialization for Asian Americans compared with other minoritiy groups, I will also utilize the present study to determine if racial socialization moderates the relation between perceptions of microaggression and self-esteem in Asian Americans.

The current study will utilize a correlational design. Participants will be recruited from local universities and the American Psychological Association (APA) and Asian American Association (AAPA) list serves. Participants will be contacted through email, asking them to complete an online survey. The survey will contain a demographics sheet, the Racial and Ethnic Minority Scale (Nadal, 2011), a measure on past experiences of microaggressions; the Perceived Racial Socialization Scale (Hughes & Johnson, 2001; adapted by Tran and Lee, 2010), which measures adolescent perceptions of racial socialization practices; and the Revised Janis-Field Feelings of Inadequacy Scale (Fleming & Courtney, 1984; Janis & Field, 1959), which measures several dimensions of self-esteem such as self-regard, academic abilities, and social confidence. Using a multiple regression analysis, I predict that perceptions of microaggression will be negatively associated with self-esteem.  Furthermore, cultural socializations, egalitarian, and preparation for bias will moderate the relation between microaggression perceptions and self-esteem such that this negative relation will be weakened.  Silence about race will also moderate the relation between perception of microaggression and self-esteem such that this negative relation will be strengthened.