Examining the Microaggressions that Black Employees Face at Work

african american employees
Topic(s): diversity, fairness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2022)
Article: When Thriving Requires Effortful Surviving: Delineating Manifestations and Resource Expenditure Outcomes of Microaggressions for Black Employees
Authors: D.D. King, E.S.M. Fattoracci, D.W. Hollingsworth, E. Stahr, M. Nelson
Reviewed by: Josie Anker

Racism remains a large concern in today’s society. In organizations, racism may persist in the form of microaggressions. Microaggressions refer to daily slights in which minority group members are disrespected or disparaged. Prior work has begun to outline the different types of microaggressions that racial minority members may face. However, experiences with microaggressions may differ depending on one’s particular racial identity and the context in which the incidents occur. Black people are one group who are likely to face microaggressions in the workplace, so it is important to examine how microaggressions may manifest for Black employees in particular.


The authors (King et al., 2022) analyzed hundreds of microaggressions that Black employees experienced at work and uncovered three overarching anti-Black workplace microaggression themes. The first overarching theme was “Anti-Black Stereotype Expression,” which consisted of microaggressions in which others signal that they expect a Black person to have low intelligence, have low interpersonal skills, or act criminally. 

The second overarching theme was “Racialized Role Assignment,” which consisted of microaggressions in which others expect a Black employee to be in a servitude or physically-oriented role, or assume a Black person is of a low socioeconomic status. 

The third overarching theme was “Interactional Injustice.” This theme consisted of microaggressions in which Black employees were treated more poorly than people of other races, or in which Black employees’ physical attributes (e.g., hair) were pathologized or viewed as “other.” It also includes microaggressions in which individual differences among Black people are ignored or unique practices of the racial group are treated with contempt. 


In terms of outcomes, the researchers found that in most cases, experiencing microaggressions was associated with more burnout and less job satisfaction. Further, experiencing microaggressions was associated with more co-rumination (talking and venting about feelings and problems with others), and more racism-related vigilance (mentally preparing oneself for expected racism). Interestingly, for some types of microaggressions, co-rumination and racism-related vigilance were in turn related to higher job satisfaction, suggesting that in some cases, these tactics may help buffer Black employees from experiencing the negative impact that microaggressions can otherwise have on job satisfaction. 


The researchers note that sometimes perpetrators of microaggressions are simply unaware of what microaggressions and their effects are. Therefore, it is important that employees and leaders remain aware of the types of microaggressions their Black colleagues face so that they can avoid committing such microaggressions and be an effective ally. 

Furthermore, leaders should be sure to address reported microaggressions adequately in order to foster a culture of inclusion among employees. Additionally, the researchers suggest that the types of microaggressions found in this research may be used to design workplace training that aims to prevent such microaggressions and their harmful effects from occurring. 


King, D. D., Fattoracci, E. S. M., Hollingsworth, D. W., Stahr, E., & Nelson, M. (2022). When thriving requires effortful surviving: Delineating manifestations and resource expenditure outcomes of microaggressions for Black employees. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.