Slow Burn:
The Effects of Interpersonal
Implicit Discrimination
Stephanie J. Cunningham, M.S.
University of Southern Indiana
Counseling Center
Our Plan
► Defining
discrimination and privilege
► Characterizing
how privilege is communicated in
interpersonal interactions
► Describing
► Discussing
the effects of implicit discrimination
how to decrease the likelihood of
engaging in implicit discrimination
What Is Discrimination?
► Acts
of bias based on aspects of identity
► Typically
► Now
construed as willful acts
it is more likely to be an unintended
side effect
Implicit Discrimination
► Expressing
► Levels
our privilege without recognizing it
of communication
 Explicit and implicit
► Privilege
scrambles the message
A Privilege Primer
► What
does it mean to have privilege?
 Social benefits that come from group membership
► Privilege
is the flip side of discrimination
 It exists for all aspects of identity
White privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege,
able-bodied privilege, etc.
 It is not all-or-nothing for each person
► Privilege
is meant to be outside of the
awareness of the privileged group
What Does Implicit Discrimination
Look Like?
Two interpersonal avenues
 Microaggressions
Commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental
indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory, or
negative slights and insults (Sue, 2010)
 Wielding privilege as a weapon or a shield
Using rhetorical tactics that permit avoidance of
recognizing or confronting privilege
Forms of Microaggression
► Microinsult
 Communications that convey rudeness,
insensitivity, or demeaning of another's heritage
Ascription of intelligence, pathologizing cultural values
or communication, assumption of criminal status
► Microinvalidation
 Communications that exclude, negate, or nullify
thoughts, feelings or experiential reality
Color blindness, myth of meritocracy, denial of
individual racism
Content drawn from Sue, D.W. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life. p.29-34
Rhetorical Privilege
Communication strategies that obfuscate or
disrupt attempts at difficult dialogues
 “If you won’t educate me, how can I learn?”
 “But that happens to me too!”
 “I won’t continue this conversation until you
calm down.”
 “You’re taking this too personally.”
 “You’re not like the others.”
 “But I’m not like that!”
Content adapted from Derailing for Dummies,
Why Does This Stuff Matter?
► It
is immediately hurtful to the person and
the relationship
► It promotes maintenance of privilege
► It negatively affects both the person and
the culture in several ways
 Physical and psychological well-being
 Likelihood of personal success
 Access to and inclusion within institutions
Physical and Psychological Health
► Psychological
 General distress, increase in psychiatric
symptoms, exacerbation of PTSD symptoms
► Physical
 Substance abuse, hypertension, somatic stress
reactions (e.g., headaches, nausea, insomnia),
increase in women’s PMS symptoms
Impediment to Personal Success
Stereotype threat
(Steele & Aronson, 1995)
 “being at risk of confirming, as selfcharacteristic, a negative stereotype about
one’s group” (p.797)
Affects performance
► Social
identity threat
(Branscomb, Ellemers, Spears &
Doosje, 1999) [Social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986)]
 We avoid contexts that are likely to threaten
our positive self-impression
Access and Inclusion
The myth of meritocracy limits access
► Restricted
access means no building of the
“pipeline” for future inclusion
► Creation
of a “chilly climate” that
discourages inclusion
What Are the Implications?
► For
our work
 How do we keep this from affecting our efforts
to enhance diversity?
Being mindful of how these play out in our work at
the micro and macro levels
► For
 How do we make change in ourselves?
Grow and develop as an ally for social justice:
 Reflect on your privilege, consider how it plays out in your
life, don’t allow guilt to stymie action, accept that you will
screw up, accept that you will be uncomfortable
► Remember:
 Being an ally for social justice is a process, not
a goal
 Appreciate the developmental nature of the
process and be kind with it
 Be open to feedback – seek it and accept it
 There is ALWAYS more to learn
Final thoughts, comments, questions?

Slow Burn: The Effects of Interpersonal Implicit Discrimination