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"Fresh Off the Boat?" Racial Microaggressions That Target South Asian Canadian Students

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  • Arizona State University, Tempe, United States

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The present study sought to examine South Asian Canadian undergraduate students' (N = 7) experiences with racial microaggressions at a research-intensive Canadian university. Participants ranged in age from 19-23 years and comprised various ethnic groups (e.g., Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and Tamil). Data were collected during a semistructured focus group interview and were analyzed using the consensual qualitative research method (Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997). Eight themes emerged. Novel themes included the following: perceived as fresh off the boat, excluded from social life, notion that being Brown is a liability, assumption of ties to terrorism, and compelled to be a cultural expert. Three additional themes were consistent with prior research on Asian Americans (Sue, Bucceri, Lin, Nadal, & Torino, 2007): ascription of intelligence in stereotypical domains, invalidation of interethnic and racial differences, and treated as invisible. Implications for research and campus interventions are discussed. © 2014 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.
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“Fresh Off the Boat?” Racial Microaggressions That Target South
Asian Canadian Students
Gauthamie Poolokasingham
McGill University Lisa B. Spanierman
Arizona State University
Sela Kleiman
University of Toronto Sara Houshmand
McGill University
The present study sought to examine South Asian Canadian undergraduate students’ (N7)
experiences with racial microaggressions at a research-intensive Canadian university. Partici-
pants ranged in age from 19–23 years and comprised various ethnic groups (e.g., Indian,
Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and Tamil). Data were collected during a semistructured focus group
interview and were analyzed using the consensual qualitative research method (Hill, Thompson,
& Williams, 1997). Eight themes emerged. Novel themes included the following: perceived as
fresh off the boat, excluded from social life, notion that being Brown is a liability,assumption
of ties to terrorism, and compelled to be a cultural expert. Three additional themes were
consistent with prior research on Asian Americans (Sue, Bucceri, Lin, Nadal, & Torino, 2007):
ascription of intelligence in stereotypical domains, invalidation of interethnic and racial differ-
ences, and treated as invisible. Implications for research and campus interventions are discussed.
Keywords: racial microaggressions, South Asian Canadians, racism in higher education
Espousing a multiculturally inclusive policy, Can-
ada endeavors to create a welcoming environment
for all members of its society (Canadian Multicul-
turalism Act, 1985, c. 24). Accordingly, Canadians
tend to pride themselves on embracing cultural dif-
ferences (Beharry & Crozier, 2008;Esses & Gard-
ner, 1996). Despite these apparent commitments to
multiculturalism, contemporary forms of racism tar-
get visible minorities
1
on both macro- and microlev-
els (Carr, 2008;Lund, 2006;Lund & Carr, 2010;
Samuel & Burney, 2003;Waldron, 2010). On a
macrolevel, racism is an inherent part of Canadian
society and its institutions (Lund & Carr, 2010).
Institutional racism is embedded in the discourses,
policies, and practices that maintain White superior-
ity (Henry & Tator, 2009) and perpetuate inequalities
between Whites and visible minorities (Waldron,
2010). On a microlevel, visible minorities continue
to be the targets of racial discrimination (Kawakami,
Dunn, Karmali, & Dovidio, 2009;Lee, 2008;
Moore, 2009).
Although a rich body of research in the
United States demonstrates that racism has neg-
ative effects on targets’ psychological and so-
cial well-being (Pascoe & Smart Richman,
1
Defined by the Employment Equity Act as “persons,
other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in
race or non-White in colour” (1995, c. 44, p. 22).
Gauthamie Poolokasingham, Department of Educational
and Counselling Psychology, McGill University; Lisa B.
Spanierman, Faculty of Counseling and Counseling Psy-
chology, Arizona State University; Sela Kleiman, Applied
Psychology and Human Development, University of To-
ronto; Sara Houshmand, Department of Educational and
Counselling Psychology; McGill University.
This publication is based on the master’s thesis equiva-
lence project completed by the first author under the direc-
tion of Lisa B. Spanierman. This research was partially
funded by the McGill University Office of Deputy Provost
(Student Life and Learning) and supported by the Social
Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office. We would
like to sincerely thank D. Anthony Clark for his thoughtful
feedback on earlier drafts of the manuscript and Lily Han
for her co-facilitation assistance. We also appreciate the
recruitment assistance provided by the Student’s Society of
McGill University (SSMU).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed
to Gauthamie Poolokasingham, Department of Educational
and Counselling Psychology, McGill University, Education
Building–Suite B136, 3700 McTavish Street, Montréal, QC, H3A
1Y2. E-mail: gpoolo3@gmail.com
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Journal of Diversity in Higher Education © 2014 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education
2014, Vol. 7, No. 3, 194–210 1938-8926/14/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037285
194
2009;Utsey, Ponterotto, Reynolds, & Cancelli,
2000;Williams, Neighbors, & Jackson, 2003),
polite conversation in Canada constructs racism
as taboo (Lund & Carr, 2010). Because many
White Canadians are averse to acknowledging
their racial privilege and the existence of racism
(Lund & Carr, 2010), discussing racism openly
has been controversial, constricted, and difficult
(Lund, 2006). Discussions about race often-
times are avoided because such dialogue can
result in hurt feelings, anger, or discomfort (Sil-
ver, 2002). In the current study, we employ the
racial microaggressions framework (Sue, Capo-
dilupo, et al., 2007), which through its focus on
subtle and unintentional forms of racism may
provide a less threatening approach to the study
of racism in Canadian universities. Specifically,
because racial microaggressions are framed as
subtle, commonplace, and often unintentional
(Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007), they may be
easier to discuss than more overt forms of rac-
ism.
South Asian Canadians
South Asian Canadians are one of the most
heterogeneous groups in Canada. They com-
prise wide-ranging ethnic, religious, and lin-
guistic diversity (e.g., Sri Lankans may identify
as Tamil, Singhalese, and/or Burhger; Tran,
Kaddatz, & Allard, 2005). Notably, South
Asians living in Canada are more likely than
their White counterparts to hold a bachelor’s
(16.54% vs. 10.72%) or postbachelor’s degree
(13.16% vs. 6.00%; Statistics Canada, 2006).
Despite higher levels of education, they experi-
ence greater unemployment (8.7% vs. 5.9%)
than their White counterparts and earn less av-
erage employment income than White individ-
uals ($31,102 vs. $37,752; Statistics Canada,
2006). Because educational attainment and in-
come are important indicators of well-being and
opportunity (Lewis & Burd-Sharps, 2013),
these apparent discrepancies between education
and employment levels suggest South Asians
are the targets of systemic discrimination. Insti-
tutional racism manifests in spaces where
“structural correlates—inequality, disadvantage
and subordination—are still fashioned along ra-
cial lines” (Fenton, 1982, p. 59). Furthermore, if
institutional racism is defined by its conse-
quences (i.e., racial inequalities), discrepancies
in income and unemployment are indicative of
its existence (Williams, 1985). Indeed, substan-
tiating this notion many South Asians in Canada
have reported facing racism in social, employ-
ment, and education settings (Beharry & Cro-
zier, 2008). Given their high levels of postsec-
ondary attainment and the notion that university
constitutes a critical developmental period, ex-
periences with racism at this time can have
significant, negative effects on undergraduates’
social and cognitive growth (Pushkin & Colon-
Gonzalez, 1998). To this end, understanding
South Asian Canadian students’ experiences
with racial microaggressions at Canadian uni-
versities is warranted.
Predominantly White universities do not re-
flect the diversity of Canada’s growing multi-
cultural population and may not be affirming for
South Asian students (Samuel & Burney, 2003).
The core curriculum, for example, privileges
Eurocentric experiences, which may leave
South Asian students feeling excluded and trivi-
alized (Henry & Tator, 2009;Samuel & Burney,
2003). In one qualitative study of leisure activ-
ities among South Asian Canadian students, Ti-
rone (1999) found that they experienced taunt-
ing and teasing when wearing distinct clothing,
encountered racist remarks pertaining to their
skin color, and reported that their cultural tra-
ditions were not appreciated. Similarly, in a
qualitative study examining interactions be-
tween White faculty and South Asian students,
Samuel and Burney (2003) found that South
Asian students were the targets of racist com-
ments, belittling, and humiliation. To better
capture students’ nuanced interpersonal experi-
ences with subtle racism on campus, we employ
the racial microaggressions framework in the
current study.
The Racial Microaggressions Framework
Drawing on Pierce, Carew, Pierce-Gonzalez,
and Willis’s (1978) initial conceptualization of
racial microaggressions, Sue, Capodilupo, and
colleagues (2007) developed the tripartite racial
microaggressions model. They described racial
microaggressions as “brief and commonplace
daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental in-
dignities, whether intentional or unintentional,
that communicate hostile, derogatory, or nega-
tive racial slights and insults to the target person
or group” (p. 273). They delineated between
three types of racial microaggressions, which
195FRESH OFF THE BOAT?
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range from subtle communications that margin-
alize the perspectives and experiences of people
of color (i.e., microinvalidations) and display
inconsiderateness or disrespect (i.e., microin-
sults) to more overt racial attacks (i.e., microas-
saults). Examples of racial microaggressions in-
clude jokes that ridicule visible minorities or
statements that are grounded in stereotypical
assumptions about a target’s race. While seem-
ingly harmless, racial microaggressions result in
cumulative, detrimental psychological effects
(Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007).
Empirical research has sought to understand
how racial microaggressions function, how they
are perpetuated in society, and how they might
be ameliorated. Thus far, a preponderance of the
racial microaggressions literature has focused
on Black Americans (Allen, 2010;Constantine,
Smith, Redington, & Owens, 2008;Constantine
& Sue, 2007;McCabe, 2009;Sue, Capodilupo,
& Holder, 2008;Sue, Nadal et al., 2008;Torres,
Driscoll, & Burrow, 2010), Asian Americans
(Alvarez, Juang, & Liang, 2006;Lin, 2011;
Nadal, 2008;Sue, Bucceri, Lin, Nadal, &
Torino, 2007), Latino/a Americans (Yosso,
Smith, Ceja, & Solórzano, 2009), American In-
dians (Clark, Spanierman, Reed, Soble, & Ca-
bana, 2011), and multiracial Americans (Nadal
et al., 2011). Most relevant to the current inves-
tigation, quantitative research has documented
the prevalence of racial microaggressions that
target Asian American undergraduates (Alvarez
et al., 2006). Specifically, Alvarez and col-
leagues (2006) documented that among 254
participants, 98% had experienced at least one
racial microaggression in past year. Likewise, in
a focus group study among Asian American
students and employed adults, Sue, Bucceri, and
colleagues (2007) found that participants re-
ported being typecast as foreigners (i.e., alien in
own land) and naturally intelligent (i.e., ascrip-
tion of intelligence), as well as being treated as
a model minority for whom racial discrimina-
tion and inequity does not exist (i.e., denial of
racial reality;Sue, Bucceri et al., 2007). Sue
(2010) argued that among the most powerful
racial microaggressions that target Asian Amer-
icans are their characterizations as perpetual
foreigners and a model minority.
With notable exceptions (Alvarez et al.,
2006;Nadal, 2008), few studies have explored
within-group differences among Asian Ameri-
cans. Given their unique ancestral heritage tied
to British colonial rule, resulting in greater ex-
posure to Western values and familiarity with
the English language (Farver, Narang, &
Bhadha, 2002), racial microaggressions may be
different for South Asians when compared with
other Asian populations. In addition, given
South Asians’ unique culture (e.g., food, cloth-
ing, and languages) and phenotypic resem-
blance to Arab Americans (see Ahluwalia,
2011;Bhatia, 2008), racial microaggressions
may manifest in unique ways. To our knowl-
edge, only two studies of racial microaggres-
sions have included South Asian Americans in
their sample; however, they accounted for 10%
or less of the sample and were combined with
other Asian Americans (Alvarez et al., 2006;
Sue, Bucceri, et al., 2007). As such, the distinct
racialized experiences of South Asians living in
North America with racial microaggressions are
in need of empirical investigation.
We are aware of few studies that examined
racial microaggressions in the Canadian con-
text, and this research focused on international
students (Houshmand, Spanierman, & Tafarodi,
in press), Aboriginal students (Clark, Kleiman,
Spanierman, Isaac, & Poolokasingham, 2014),
and mental health professionals (Hernández,
Carranza, & Almeida, 2010). Most relevant to
the current investigation, Houshmand and col-
leagues (in press) found that Asian international
students reported themes of exclusion, avoid-
ance, ridicule, and structural inequalities at a
Canadian university. Overall, East Asian stu-
dents reported more microaggression themes
than their South Asian counterparts, which the
authors posited might be because of English
language facility. South Asian international stu-
dents’ experiences with racial microaggressions
on campus may not be transferable to South
Asian Canadian students’ experiences. Thus,
the current investigation explores how racial
microaggressions operate in the lives of South
Asian Canadian students to identify the unique
experiences of these participants.
Purpose and Rationale of the
Present Investigation
Visible minority students attending Canadian
universities experience racial discrimination on
campus (Dei, Mazzuca, McIsaac, & Zine, 1997;
Henry & Tator, 2009;McGill Office of the
Deputy Provost for Student Life and Learning
196 POOLOKASINGHAM, SPANIERMAN, KLEIMAN, AND HOUSHMAND
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
2009;Samuel & Burney, 2003). As the largest
and fastest growing visible minority group in
Canada (Human Resources and Skills Develop-
ment Canada, 2006), South Asian Canadians’
encounters with racism in educational settings
are of critical concern because university marks
an important developmental period (Pushkin &
Colon-Gonzalez, 1998). Despite a policy-based
commitment to equity, university personnel of-
ten are ill-equipped to deal with diversity issues;
they lack the knowledge, skills, and resources to
anticipate and respond to critical incidents
(Henry & Tator, 2009). The extant literature has
not yet thoroughly explored the subtle, dynamic,
and variable nature of racism encountered by
South Asian Canadian undergraduates—knowl-
edge that is crucial to create more inclusive cam-
pus environments. Because the racial microag-
gressions model addresses subtle and
unintentional forms of racism (Sue, Capodilupo,
et al., 2007), which are more likely to be found in
polite society (Lund & Carr, 2010), it offers a
valuable framework for understanding how rac-
ism operates in the lives of South Asian Canadian
students. Thus, in the current investigation we
explore South Asian Canadian students’ experi-
ences with racial microaggressions.
Method
Qualitative methods are appropriate because
they allow researchers to develop a nuanced and
in-depth understanding of phenomena (Morrow,
2007), such as those pertaining to race (Pon-
terotto, 2010). We used a focus group approach,
because group discussions offer a social context
in which participants can share multiple per-
spectives, build upon each other’s ideas, and
facilitate the formulation of a nuanced under-
standing of the phenomenon of interest
(Krueger & Casey, 2009). We used a modified
version of the consensual qualitative research
method (CQR), which relies on consensus
among researchers to reduce bias (Hill et al.,
2005;Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997).
CQR can be used to examine complex informa-
tion through the eyes of participants while de-
scribing the process, outcome, and context of
participants’ experiences with phenomena (Hill
et al., 1997). CQR has been utilized effectively
in prior racial microaggressions research (e.g.,
Clark et al., 2011;Sue, Lin, Torino, Capodi-
lupo, & Rivera, 2009). Among published racial
microaggressions research, CQR has been used
in studies where data have been collected
through one (e.g., Nadal et al., 2011)ortwo
focus groups (e.g., Sue, Buccerri, et al., 2007;
Sue, Capodilupo, & Holder, 2008).
Participants and Recruitment
Participants (5 women and 2 men) were full-
time undergraduate students attending a pre-
dominantly White, research-intensive Canadian
university. The English-language institution is a
large university located in a major metropolitan
area. Using purposive sampling (Ritchie, Lewis,
& Elam, 2003), the researchers selected partic-
ipants based on a specific set of inclusion crite-
ria: self-identification as South Asian Canadian,
Canadian citizens, enrollment in full-time un-
dergraduate academic studies, and availability
to attend the focus group. To ensure a purposive
sample, participants were aware at the time of
recruitment that researchers were interested in
their experiences with racial discrimination on
campus. Participants were recruited through
cultural clubs, departmental listservs, and refer-
rals from students and professors. Their ages
ranged from 19–23 years. We relied on partic-
ipants’ verbatim descriptions of their own race
and ethnicity to remain true to their voices
(Townsend, Markus, & Bergsieker, 2009) rather
than imposing the researchers’ view of their
backgrounds. Specifically, participants were
asked to identify their “racial background” and
their “primary ethnic background.” They self-
identified as “Tamil” (n2), “Bengdeshi
(South Asian)” (n1), “Sri Lankan” (n1),
“Sri Lanka France” (n1), “Sri Lankan
Tamil” (n1), and “Indian” (n1). The
biracial student (i.e., “Sri Lanka France”) ex-
plained that she did racially self-identify as South
Asian. All participants were Canadian citizens
who lived in Canada for 4–23 years. See Table 1
for participants’ self-selected pseudonyms and ad-
ditional demographic information.
Researchers
The primary research team consisted of a South
Asian, Tamil-Sri Lankan, female master’s student
in counseling psychology (i.e., first author); a
White, Jewish-American, female associate profes-
sor of counseling psychology with expertise in
racial attitudes (i.e., second author); a White, Jew-
ish-Canadian, male master’s student in counseling
197FRESH OFF THE BOAT?
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psychology (i.e., third author); and an Iranian-
Canadian, female doctoral student in counseling
psychology (i.e., fourth author). The graduate stu-
dent researchers had prior research experience
with diversity issues broadly and racial microag-
gressions in particular. All had previous experi-
ence using the CQR method.
The research team acknowledged their beliefs
that South Asian students experience covert and
overt forms of racial discrimination on campus
and may not always attribute more subtle experi-
ences to racism. To minimize biases and assump-
tions, members of the research team remained
mindful of these issues through continual, open
discussions (Hill et al., 1997). Following sugges-
tions of qualitative methodologists, the research-
ers consciously bracketed (i.e., mindfully identi-
fied and set aside; Fischer, 2009) their
assumptions and beliefs during the data analysis
stages. This process fostered researcher reflexivity
(Hill et al., 1997;Morrow, 2005) and assisted in
capturing participants’ authentic experiences (Cre-
swell, 2007;Ponterotto, 2005). Finally, the re-
search team openly discussed power issues
throughout the investigation; specifically, they
pledged to create a climate in which all research-
ers had an equal voice (Ponterotto, 2010). All
researchers were encouraged to share their per-
spectives and challenge those of team members.
Data Source
In contrast to traditional CQR, we exam-
ined focus group data rather than individual
interviews. Focus groups offer a social con-
text in which participants can share multiple
perspectives and co-construct meaning from
their experiences, hence facilitating candid
discussion and nuanced understanding
(Krueger, 1998;Sue et al., 2008). To elicit
discussion about participants’ experiences
with racial discrimination on campus, we de-
veloped our interview protocol through a re-
view of the extant literature on racial micro-
aggressions (Alvarez et al., 2006;Lin, 2011;
Nadal, 2008;Solórzano, Allen, & Carroll,
2002;Sue, 2010;Sue, Bucceri, et al., 2007;
Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007;Sue et al.,
2008). Interview prompts asked participants
to reflect on their: (a) general experiences on
campus, (b) encounters with people who ex-
pressed stereotypical beliefs about their racial
group (e.g., “Think of some of the stereotypes
that exist about your racial group. Have oth-
ers on campus ever expressed their stereotyp-
ical beliefs about you?”), and (c) daily expe-
riences with racial discrimination (e.g.,
“Thinking about your daily experiences at
[University Name], could any of you describe
a situation in which you were discriminated
against because of your race?”). As suggested
by Hill and colleagues (1997,2005), ques-
tions were open-ended to allow freedom of
response. The interview protocol followed a
semistructured format with follow-up probes
(available from the first author upon request).
In addition, a brief demographic question-
naire was used to gather descriptive data
about the participants, such as age, gender,
racial and ethnic self-identification, and reli-
gion.
Procedure
An expert in focus group facilitation from the
institution’s equity office trained both facilita-
Table 1
Participant Information
Pseudonym Age Gender Ethnicity Religion Year in
university Years spent
in Canada
Sarah 22 F “Bengladeshi (South Asian)” Islam 4 4
Maria 21 F “Indian” Christianity 3 6
Jessminder (Jess) 21 F “Tamil” Hinduism 2 21
Praba 23 M “Tamil” Hinduism 5 23
Maya 20 F “Sri Lankan” Hinduism 2 20
Seven 21 M “Sri Lankan Tamil” Hinduism 3 “18
Sophie 19 F “Sri Lanka France” “N/A” 2 9
Note. Participants selected their own pseudonyms and all self-identified as being Canadian citizens. The use of quotations
(e.g., “N/A” and “Tamil”) indicates the direct transcription of participants’ responses as they appear on the demographic
form.
198 POOLOKASINGHAM, SPANIERMAN, KLEIMAN, AND HOUSHMAND
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tors. The first author served as the primary
facilitator, and an East-Asian Canadian female
doctoral student from the Faculty of Education
was the secondary facilitator. Per Krueger and
Casey’s (2009) recommendation, the primary
facilitator guided the discussion while the sec-
ondary facilitator served as note-taker and re-
sponded to unexpected interruptions. Both fa-
cilitators consciously bracketed their
assumptions throughout the focus group to pre-
vent them from influencing student responses
(Stewart, Shamdasani, & Rook, 2007). The fo-
cus group lasted approximately 110 minutes
and was audio recorded. The primary facilitator
transcribed the audio recording verbatim and
reviewed the transcript for accuracy. Partici-
pants received $20 and a pizza dinner as com-
pensation for their time.
Data Analysis
During the initial phase of the modified CQR
method, procedures followed those outlined by
Hill et al. (1997,2005) and Sue, Bucceri, et al.
(2007). In the current study, the first and second
author independently reviewed the focus group
transcript, listened to the audio recording, and
compiled a list of potential microaggressive
themes. Then, they discussed their individual
compilations and through the consensus process
developed a list of potential themes, descrip-
tions, and examples from the data. The first
author then reviewed the transcript for data that
may have been overlooked in the initial phase of
the analysis; she created a table of themes,
definitions, and illustrative data. This table
comprised 12 themes, preliminary definitions,
and multiple transcript excerpts for each theme.
Following the CQR method (Hill et al., 1997,
2005) the first and second author engaged in
several discussions to refine the preliminary re-
sults until they reached consensus on nine
themes. They also refined theme definitions and
illustrative quotations for each theme.
Next, the third and fourth authors and a peer-
debriefer reviewed the findings independently
to minimize researcher bias, reduce the effects
of groupthink
2
, and draw attention to data that
may have been overlooked (Hill et al., 1997,
2005). The role of the research team in this step,
referred to as triangulation by investigators
(Hays & Singh, 2012), enhanced the trustwor-
thiness of our findings. More specifically, this
internal audit resulted in the synthesis of two
themes (i.e., incorporating a theme on English
proficiency into the theme perceived as fresh off
the boat). This process further streamlined the
findings and resulted in eight themes. After in-
corporating changes from the third author, the
fourth author reviewed the focus group tran-
script and provided feedback on the results.
This step resulted in: (a) clarifying the theme
name for ascription of intelligence in stereotyp-
ical domains, (b) elaborating on the meaning of
particular terminology (i.e., Bindi and liability),
and (c) including an additional example for the
fresh off the boat theme. Eight final themes
remained. Researchers then consulted with a
biracial male interdisciplinary studies professor,
that is, a peer de-briefer (Hill et al., 2005,1997),
with experience in racial microaggressions re-
search. No major theme changes were requested
or advised.
Maintaining Trustworthiness
Throughout data collection and analysis the
researchers took steps to ensure trustworthiness
by upholding the standards of credibility, trans-
ferability, dependability, and confirmability
(Lincoln & Guba, 1985). To maintain credibil-
ity, they engaged in a process of continual ques-
tioning and peer debriefing as stipulated by the
CQR method. Consistent with Morrow (2005),
the researchers attempted to provide sufficient
information about participants, the research pro-
cess, the context, and the researchers to bolster
the transferability of the findings. To enhance
dependability, the researchers documented their
process of data collection and analysis (Mor-
row, 2005). To address confirmability, facilita-
tors conducted in vivo member checks with
participants at various points during the focus
group to ensure accuracy of interpretation. Spe-
cifically, facilitators paraphrased and summa-
rized participant comments throughout the fo-
cus group as an in vivo member check. These
interventions helped to ensure participants’
points were understood accurately; they also
provided opportunities for participants to elab-
2
Groupthink refers to “a mode of thinking that people
engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive
in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity over-
ride their motivation to realistically appraise alternative
courses of action” (Janis, 1982,p.9).
199FRESH OFF THE BOAT?
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orate or alter their responses. As noted earlier,
researchers bracketed their own assumptions to
minimize bias and incorporated direct quota-
tions (Morrow, 2005).
Findings
In the present study, we identified eight racial
microaggressions themes targeting South Asian
Canadian undergraduate students: perceived as
fresh off the boat (FOB),excluded from social
life,notion that being Brown is a liability,as-
sumption of ties to terrorism,compelled to be a
cultural expert,ascription of intelligence in ste-
reotypical domains,invalidation of interethnic
and racial differences, and treated as invisible
(see Table 2 for theme definitions). Five themes,
which were novel to the literature on racial
microaggressions in North America, emerged.
Consistent with the extant research on Asian
Americans, South Asian Canadian participants
experienced ascription of intelligence,invisibil-
ity, and invalidation of interethnic differences
(Sue, Bucceri, et al., 2007). Notably, in the
current investigation there was some variation
in how these themes manifested, which is de-
scribed later. We outline the five novel themes
followed by the three themes consistent with
previous literature. For each theme, we provide
illustrative quotations that exemplify partici-
pants’ experiences; the length of the description
is proportionate to the frequency and intensity
of discussion on the theme.
Theme 1: Perceived as
Fresh Off the Boat (FOB)
All participants expressed the theme titled,
perceived as FOB, referring to the assumption
that South Asian Canadian undergraduates do
not fit in Canadian society. Specifically, partic-
ipants reported being perceived as immigrants
who were too “culturally oriented,” not assim-
ilated to Canadian society, lacking English pro-
ficiency, and having low social class status.
Being perceived as a FOB on campus denoted
that they did not “belong in mainstream culture”
and were part of an “external group.” Partici-
pants described these experiences as “very sub-
tle,” “really hard,” and causing “pressure over-
load.” Describing her experience, Maya stated:
People often can categorize people as FOBs...It
makes you stand out more and it makes the overall
experience just harder. People judge you more. People
Table 2
Racial Microaggressions Experienced by South Asian Canadian Undergraduates
Theme Definition
Perceived as Fresh Off the Boat (FOB) Enduring the assumption that South Asian Canadians do not fit
in Canadian society, are too culturally oriented, and/or lack
English proficiency.
Excluded from social life Enduring the assumption that South Asian Canadians do not
like to engage in social activities (e.g., partying and drinking
alcohol) and/or are restricted from doing so by tight parental
control.
Notion that being Brown is a liability Instances where South Asian Canadians feel that their racial
group identification and/or skin color serves as a liability.
Assumption of ties to terrorism Enduring the assertion that South Asian Canadians are
terrorists and pose a threat to society.
Compelled to be a cultural expert The expectation that South Asian Canadians are cultural
experts, can inform others about their culture, and/or should
speak on racial issues.
Ascription of intelligence in stereotypical domains The assertion that South Asian Canadians are skilled in the
disciplines of engineering, finance, science, accounting,
commerce, math, and computer science by virtue of their
race.
Invalidation of interethnic and racial differences Minimization of ethnic differences amongst South Asian
Canadians and racial differences between South Asian
Canadians and other visible minority groups.
Treated as invisible Instances in which South Asian Canadians are overlooked and/
or ignored by White perpetrators.
200 POOLOKASINGHAM, SPANIERMAN, KLEIMAN, AND HOUSHMAND
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think you can’t integrate. People think you don’t have
anything in common with every—with main society,
and that you’re too attached to your cultural back-
ground and that you haven’t found the perfect medium
of being attached to your cultural background and
accepting your Canadian [background]. Personally,
I’m very patriotic about Canada. So, when someone
calls me a FOB...it’s like I was born here...[and,
I] like to embrace my [culture], the culture of my
parents, but that doesn’t mean I’m a FOB.
Similarly, Jess recollected her experience with
an academic advisor who spoke to her as if she
had difficulty understanding English. Jess de-
scribed the advisor as talking to her as if she
were “really slow,” which made her feel like a
“two-year-old.”
Three women, but no men, articulated the
importance of physical appearance in being re-
garded as a FOB. For these women, the inter-
section of race and social class indicators ap-
peared to play a role in being perceived as a
FOB. They disclosed that if they were to neglect
dressing nicely they would be at greater risk for
being regarded as a FOB. Maya explained, “If
you don’t dress well it’s because you’re a FOB
...Itcan’t be because you’re in exams, it can’t
be because you woke up at 8:25 and your class
was at 8:30! No, it’s ’cause you’re a FOB that
you dress bad.” Consequently, participants felt
pressure to “dress the part” and “dress well
every day.”
Theme 2: Excluded From Social Life
This theme describes participants’ experi-
ences with White peers who held stereotypes
about South Asian Canadian students’ interest
and ability to socialize. In several cases, par-
ticipants reported that White peers had as-
sumed that South Asian Canadian students
did not like to socialize, which often connoted
partying and drinking alcohol. One partici-
pant, Sophie explained, “[Peers] just sort of
assume that you don’t go out as much or
you’re not allowed to like do those certain
things as much.”
Participants also reported enduring as-
sumptions by White peers that they were re-
stricted from socializing because of tight pa-
rental control. Jess recollected comments
such as, “We can’t go drinking ’cause she
doesn’t drink” and reported that White peers
were “so shocked” to learn otherwise. Simi-
larly, Maya reported being stereotyped as be-
ing “stuck home all day.” Consequently, some
South Asian Canadian students would go out
of their way to attend more social events than
they felt comfortable doing and make party-
type comments (e.g., “Ooh I have to go to
[university pub]”) to dispel racist stereotypes
about being asocial because of “strict” paren-
tal control. Jess also disclosed that she was
often met with the following questions: “Your
parents let you out?” “You’re allowed to stay
out late?” and “You’re allowed to drink?”
Participants stated that peers often were
shocked and surprised to find that South
Asian Canadian students engaged in social
activities and were not constrained by strict
parental controls.
Theme 3: Notion That
Being Brown Is a Liability
This theme describes participants’ experi-
ences of their racial group identification
and/or skin color being regarded as an imped-
iment to overcome. Two students, for exam-
ple, recollected experiences in which they
were made to feel insecure about their appear-
ance. Sarah described losing an election and
being told by her friends, “You lost but you
have to remember you have a lot of layers.
Like, you look different....”Similarly,
Praba described a difficult experience that had
taken place in a small classroom setting:
We were talking about how adolescents grow up and
they have certain kind of...insecurities. And then,
jokingly, [the small group leader] had said, which one
of you people never had an insecurity? And, just out of
like a joke, I said “me.” And then, he just looked at me
and said, “Ok everybody. Find him an insecurity.”
[Laughs]. And then everyone [began] shouting, “Oohh
yo-you’re dark.” “Ohhh you’re short...”Ok,butthen
this one person who knows me well goes, “You’re
Brown!”
This outburst seemed to have made the small
group leader “very uncomfortable,” and he re-
quested that the class change the topic of discus-
sion. While Praba could not speak on behalf of the
group leader, he explained that the leader ap-
peared as if he “wanted to avoid it altogether.”
Theme 4: Assumption of Ties to Terrorism
Similar to prior research delineating the as-
sumption of criminality, (see Solórzano et al.,
2002;Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007), this theme
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describes the assumption that South Asian Ca-
nadian men are terrorists and pose a threat to
society. For instance, in the current study two
men disclosed being called “very vulgar stereo-
types” like “terrorist.” As a consequence of this
stereotype, student cultural organizations to
which these men belonged were misrepresented
and referred to as a “front” for terrorism. De-
scribing his experience as a member of a student
cultural organization Praba recalled:
We would be called that [terrorist] or...the[student
cultural] group supporting terrorism...wegotreally
angry you know...we’ve been trying to like fight it
off. But it keeps coming back and I know a lot of
people that lost jobs over that. Same thing like “Oh you
must be a terrorist. Ha ha.” And then, axe you’re done
...Sowe’ve been really careful in kind of like...
avoiding the entire stereotype altogether.
Among our sample, South Asian Canadian men
felt pressure to avoid being stereotyped as terror-
ists and were afraid of the potential consequences
should they be seen as such. Although none of the
women in the study explicitly shared similar ex-
periences, they corroborated the men’s experi-
ences (i.e., nodding in acknowledgment and
agreeing with the men during the focus group).
Theme 5: Compelled to Be a
Cultural Expert
This theme describes the unfair expectations
and pressures placed on students’ to speak on
racial issues in classes and to inform peers about
their culture. Participants were expected to be
knowledgeable about cultural issues and topics by
virtue of their racial group background. For exam-
ple, Maya reported receiving “many” questions
about “Bindis”
3
from peers and having to explain,
“I only wear that at cultural things.” Similarly,
Jess recounted her experience of being expected to
adopt the role of a cultural expert because she was
the “only Brown girl” in class:
I’m in Education and we talk a lot about like these
racial issues and stuff. I could see it. Everybody feels
uneasy. We had this [multicultural] course where that
was kind of the main focus and anytime the professor
would say something or ask for class opinion, they’d
kind of look at me like, “Aren’t you going to say
something?”
Jess and other South Asian Canadian students
felt responsible for explaining their culture and
correcting any misgivings held by their peers.
Students also reported that in their efforts to
act as cultural educators they expended “effort”
to “break” and “to prove otherwise,” stereo-
types. Praba explained, “I can only assume that
a small clique of people will then realize ‘ohh
it’s just a stereotype’ you know and inform
more people...stereotypes are just stereotypes
and you know are just based on make believe or
something . . .” Although students experienced
pressure to act as cultural educators, they re-
mained hopeful that their efforts would help to
ameliorate stereotypes.
Theme 6: Ascription of Intelligence in
Stereotypical Domains
This theme refers to the ascription of intelli-
gence in disciplines related to science, technol-
ogy, engineering, and math (i.e., STEM), as
well as business. Participants were perceived as
skilled in engineering, finance, science, ac-
counting, commerce, math, and computer sci-
ence. While similar to Sue, Bucceri, et al.’s
(2007) ascription of intelligence theme for
Asian Americans, this theme is different in that
in addition to math and science, participants in
this study were seen as proficient in information
technology. In the current study, this theme also
addressed professional pigeonholing and stu-
dents’ experiences of feeling exploited for ste-
reotypical skills.
All participants reported that South Asian
students were stereotyped on campus as being
“smart” and proficient in “brainy mathematical
courses.” They reported that they often heard
comments such as, “Oh, you must be good in
math.” Maria, for instance, explained that while
these stereotypes might be thought of as posi-
tive, they have negative implications. She re-
ported that because she is “awful” at math, this
resulted in discomfort when peers would jok-
ingly exclaim, “What? You’re not good at
math? But, you’re Brown!”
South Asian Canadian students described how
ascription of intelligence sometimes resulted in
professional pigeon-holing (e.g., into IT positions
3
Bindi (Sanskrit term for “dot”) is a mark worn by many
South Asian women on their forehead for religious, orna-
mental, and/or social purposes (Tewary & Ahmed, 2006).
Traditionally, Hindu women wore it to signify marital sta-
tus; however, it is now used as a common fashion accessory
(Tewary & Ahmed, 2006).
202 POOLOKASINGHAM, SPANIERMAN, KLEIMAN, AND HOUSHMAND
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or as Vice President of Finance) and being cutoff
from alternatives. Seven, explained:
People stereotype that we are good at certain things
just because of our skin color...[Inmystudent
organization] everyone that keeps walking in, because
of what I do they’re like you know...that Brown
person. Because I do the website...they’re like yeah
that makes sense...It’s like they’re expecting it...
I’m not sure that they ever directly tell me but you can
tell from the way that they speak...they think that you
might not be suited for other positions.
Echoing this sentiment, Sophie reported being
“frustrated” with student organizations on cam-
pus. She reported that in many of these organi-
zations “everyone is basically Caucasian except
the VP Finance” and that “it’s around the same
stereotype that we’re good at math and finance.”
The ascription of intelligence in stereotypical
domains also resulted in feeling exploited for
skillsets. Jess, shared:
I had to take a math course—everybody was my friend
just in that class. I didn’t know like people knew my
name. And, they’d be like “Oh Jess . . . did you did you
do this question?”...Butthat’s the only time like I
feel like in math they all interacted with me . . . They
never said “You’re Brown you’re good in math,” but I
felt it...Especially during the exam time [when] they
wanted to study with me...nowwewalk by like we
don’t even know each other.
Despite the seemingly positive connotation of
this stereotype, it had negative effects on South
Asian Canadian students.
Theme 7: Invalidation of Interethnic and
Racial Differences
Similar to Sue, Bucceri, and colleagues’
(2007) invalidation of interethnic differences,
participants in the current study described
instances in which they felt that White indi-
viduals rejected or minimized differences
among various Asian ethnic groups. Two par-
ticipants recollected experiences of being ste-
reotyped as belonging to another South Asian
Canadian ethnic group (i.e., Indian or Paki-
stani) based on their physical appearance. A
participant, Seven, explained, “[People] as-
sume I’m not from where I’m actually from.
Somehow they think I’m either Indian or Pak-
istani.” Moreover, when he disclosed his Sri
Lankan Tamil background they did not be-
lieve him. Sophie’s testimony reflects how
she, a “Sri Lanka France” individual, was
stereotyped at a campus bar:
[At the] engineering pub...this guy approached me
with his friend who’s Brown. And, he approached
me and was like, “Hey have you met my friend?”
And, I was like, “Are you serious?”...Andthis guy
who was talking to me was Caucasian and I could
tell [and] sense that he wasn’t even looking at me as
a person. It was like, “You’re a Brown girl. This is
a Brown guy. Go!”...Thefirst question [this White
student] asked me was, “Are you from India?”...I
was just like, “No” and I just left...Itjust made me
feel so offended...IfIwasWhite [he] wouldn’t
have approached me.
Extending Sue, Bucceri, and colleagues’ (2007)
work, in the current study we include instances in
which racial differences between South Asians
and other racial groups (e.g., Arabs) were invali-
dated. Sarah, for example, recounted an experi-
ence in class in which an anecdotal story was told
about an Arab, Muslim girl who had been locked
up in a room. Because of Sarah’s Muslim back-
ground and despite her South Asian heritage, her
peer commented “Ohhh...that probably hap-
pened to you too, right?”
Theme 8: Treated as Invisible
Similar to Sue, Bucceri, and colleagues’
(2007) theme of invisibility among Asian Amer-
icans, in the present study treated as invisible
referred to a noteworthy instance in which a
South Asian Canadian woman experienced be-
ing overlooked. Sarah recounted her experience
on the first day of a small comparative religions
class in which every student, except the partic-
ipant, was asked to introduce him or herself and
share their religion:
Did [the professor] just miss me or did he intention-
ally miss me?...You’re sitting there and he
managed to get every single person and it’s not a big
class right? But how did he, did [he] intentionally
not mention me...And, I’m like the most different
one there...Imtheonewearing a Hijab. I’m the
one who visibly catches your eye. I’m sorry but like
you...have to try hard to miss me....That
actually impacted the way I participated in that class
....Iwould listen and I would engage but I
wouldn’t put up my hand.
Being treated as invisible resulted in discomfort
that hindered Sarah’s subsequent academic par-
ticipation.
Discussion
Findings from the current study identify, docu-
ment, and thus enhance understanding of South
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Asian Canadian undergraduates’ experiences with
racial microaggressions. Indeed, participants en-
countered a host of discriminatory experiences
that could be classified as racial microaggressions
(Sue, Capodilupo, et al., 2007). In a country that
considers racism to be taboo (Lund & Carr, 2010),
the present findings detail subtle and unintentional
racism encountered by members of Canada’s larg-
est and fastest growing visible minority group
(Human Resources and Skills Development Can-
ada, 2006). Moreover, because only a few studies
have included South Asian participants in prior
investigation of Asian Americans’ experiences
with racial microaggressions, our study is the first
to our knowledge to examine exclusively the ex-
periences of South Asians Canadians. Accord-
ingly, this investigation provides insight on simi-
larities and differences that exist among the vastly
heterogeneous Asian subgroups. While our inten-
tion is not to treat South Asian Canadians as a
homogenous group, this specificity is warranted
given the unique ancestral heritage, culture, and
phenotypic attributes among individuals of South
Asian descent. Among the eight racial microag-
gression themes that emerged, some were similar
to prior research on racial microaggressions or the
broader racism literature, while others were spe-
cific to the current study.
Supporting Themes From Prior Research
Reflecting consistency with prior racial mi-
croaggressions research among heterogeneous
samples of Asian Americans (e.g., Sue, Bucceri,
et al., 2007), we found support for three themes.
Like the invalidation of interethnic differences
theme articulated by Sue, Bucceri, and col-
leagues (2007), participants in the current study
felt that their White peers viewed them as be-
longing to a homogenous group based on their
racialized appearance. Moreover, given racial
and cultural similarities between South Asians
and Arabs, one participant had been conflated
with an Arab woman.
The treated as invisible theme in the present
study also mirrors prior research (Samuel, 2004;
Sue, Bucceri et al., 2007). This theme, like Sue,
Bucceri, and colleagues’ (2007) invisibility, de-
scribes instances in which a target is overlooked
or ignored. In the current study, being treated as
invisible by a professor resulted in feelings of
confusion and discomfort for the target, contrib-
uted to feeling isolated, and resulted in disen-
gagement from class participation. Although
only one instance of treated as invisible
emerged in the current study, this finding has
been documented in the literature and extends
beyond interactions with faculty (Houshmand et
al., in press;Samuel, 2004). More specifically,
Samuel (2004) found that South Asian under-
graduates reported being ignored by White
peers.
Similar to the accounts of Asian Americans
(Sue, Bucceri et al., 2007), South Asian partic-
ipants in the current study reported experienc-
ing ascription of intelligence, particularly in the
domains of math and science. Notably, in the
present investigation, participants also experi-
enced ascription of intelligence in the domain of
information technology, such as computer sci-
ence, suggesting this may be more prevalent
among South Asians specifically than Asian
Americans in general. Another interesting fea-
ture of this theme in the current study is that
participants reported feeling exploited for these
perceived skills. One woman, for instance,
shared that White peers acted as friends to gain
assistance in math class. Despite the seemingly
positive nature of these ascriptions, experiences
with this stereotype had a negative impact on
participants.
Novel Themes: Extending Racial
Microaggressions Theory
We identified five themes that are specific to
the experience of South Asian Canadian under-
graduates extending prior racial microaggres-
sions research. Perceived as fresh off the boat
(FOB) refers to South Asian Canadian students’
experiences with subtle slights that implied they
did not fit into Canadian society. While similar
to a blend between Sue, Bucceri, and col-
leagues’ (2007) themes of alien in own land and
pathologizing of cultural values (i.e., percep-
tions that participants were perpetual foreigners
and from inferior cultures, respectively), our
theme is important with respect to the Canadian
context. The term “fresh off the boat” is salient
in Canada because of its long history of indi-
viduals of color immigrating vis-a`-vis boats. It
is also indicative of the perception that all South
Asians Canadians are recent immigrants. For
South Asian Canadians, the history of boat im-
migration has been turbulent since the 1914
Komagata Meru, which attempted to come to
204 POOLOKASINGHAM, SPANIERMAN, KLEIMAN, AND HOUSHMAND
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Canada but was turned away by the Canadian
Government (Fernandez, 2002). More recently
the 2010 MV Sun Sea, containing 492 refugees
from Sri Lanka, was accepted after much con-
troversy and postacceptance “racialization,
criminalization and detention” of refugees (di
Tomasso, 2012, p. 331). Perceived as FOB also
extends previous work given its emphasis on
physical appearance, which may be linked to
perceptions of social class status. Specifically,
female participants felt judged on the basis of
their appearance (i.e., hairstyle, attire, and
make-up) and engaged in efforts to fit into mid-
dle to upper-middle class Canadian society.
George and Rail (2005) indicated that focusing
on physical appearance and “looking good”
may be strategies used by South Asian Cana-
dian women to “ward off discrimination” (p.
62). In addition, while the focus of this study
was not lateral violence, it should be noted that
the term “fresh off the boat” has been docu-
mented among Asian Americans, when refer-
ring to coethnic others as “too ethnic” or not
having acculturated (for a detailed discussion,
see Pyke & Dang, 2003, p. 149).
Excluded from social life represents South
Asian Canadian students’ experiences of being
perceived as asocial or limited socially by strict
parents. Although similar to Houshmand and
colleagues’ (in press) excluded and avoided
theme, wherein Asian international students re-
ported being passively ignored to deliberately
excluded from campus life, the experiences of
participants in our study excluded difficulties in
comprehending White peers’ Western cultural
references (e.g., to TV shows, sports, and mu-
sic), understanding peers’ jokes, or communi-
cating in English. Furthermore, many were
viewed as asocial by majority group peers and
consequently bore the burden of proving them
otherwise. This finding also corroborates Sam-
uel’s (2004) findings, which documented South
Asian students’ experiences of being excluded
from social events, such as parties and study
groups. Although the present study was not
designed to focus on intersecting identities, we
observed that the women in the focus group
were more likely to feel excluded from social
life. This supports prior scholarship that argues
that South Asian culture has been stereotyped as
inherently sexist (Patel, 2007). Similarly, the
perception that parental controls are stricter for
South Asian women than for South Asian men
also may reflect this misconception.
The assumption of ties to terrorism theme
was another finding unique to the current study.
This theme, particularly salient among the men
in the group, reflects the perception that South
Asians are viewed as terrorists who pose a
threat to society. While recent investigations of
microaggressions have unearthed similar find-
ings among Muslim Americans (Nadal et al.,
2012) and British Asian Muslim cricketers
(Burdsey, 2011), our study extends this theme
to South Asian Canadians. To date, our findings
are consistent with research that showed a sharp
increase in hate crimes targeting not only Arab
Americans and Muslim Americans but also
South Asian Americans post 9/11 (Finn, 2011;
Wang, Siy, & Cheryan, 2011). South Asians
living in North America may be targeted given
their phenotypic similarities to Arabs and given
the involvement of South Asian countries (e.g.,
Pakistan and Afghanistan) with respect to the
war on terror. For Canadian Tamils, these ac-
cusations may also extend from stereotypes
about the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam,
which was designated a terrorist organization in
2006 by Canada (Public Safety Canada, 2013)
and 1997 by the United States (U.S. Department
of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism, 2012).
Although it was the South Asian men in our
study who reported assumptions of ties to ter-
rorism, other scholars have articulated that
some South Asian women experienced a similar
stereotype (Finn, 2011;Samuel, 2004).
The notion that being Brown is a liability was
another novel racial microaggressions theme
that emerged in the current study. South Asian
Canadian students reported that their White
peers understand brown skin color and South
Asian racial group identification as impedi-
ments to success. Notably, both perpetrators
and targets, referred to individuals of South
Asian descent as “Brown.” While commonly
used in colloquial Canadian discourse (e.g.,
George & Rail, 2005), Sundar (2006) defined
“Brown” as a broad term used to categorize a
unique racial group encompassing all South
Asian people of various religious and cultural
backgrounds. This categorization of South
Asians as a distinct racial group is particularly
important as it highlights the differentiation of
South Asians from other Asians.
205FRESH OFF THE BOAT?
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Finally, as one of the few visible minorities
on campus, participants often felt compelled to
be cultural experts. In this study, the position-
ing of participants as cultural experts may be
seen as serving to invalidate their sense of be-
longing in Canadian society by stereotyping
their perspectives and culture as a special case.
Moreover, it tended to place unfair pressure on
these students. While Sue and colleagues (2009)
articulated similar findings among students of
color wherein the perpetrators were professors,
our findings identified the primary perpetrators
of this racial microaggression as dominant
group peers. Additionally, participants’ qualita-
tive descriptions of feeling exploited and cut off
from alternatives in the current study go beyond
feeling pressure to conform and trapped, which
has been described in prior research (Sue, Buc-
ceri et al., 2007). Notably, in a study of South
Asian students’ peer interactions in Canadian
academe, Samuel (2004) also found that partic-
ipants experienced ignorant questions from
White peers and felt obligated to dispel stereo-
types (e.g., that all South Asians live in huts).
Similar to our findings, these participants also
reported feeling annoyed by such questions and
were concerned that their White peers would
overgeneralize their views to reflect that of all
South Asians.
Limitations of the Current Study
Although our findings contribute distinc-
tively to the literature on South Asian Canadian
experiences with racial microaggressions, sev-
eral limitations should be noted. Because our
investigation focused on the experiences of a
select number of undergraduates from one,
large, predominantly White Canadian univer-
sity, racial microaggressions may manifest dif-
ferently in other universities. Several Canadian
universities (e.g., University of Toronto and
University of British Columbia; Findlay &
Köhler, 2010) have been characterized as hav-
ing a large Asian Canadian student population,
which might contribute to differences in the
frequency and nature of racial microaggressions
experienced at these institutions. Another limi-
tation pertains to our overrepresentation of
Tamil and Sri Lankan students. Because South
Asians are considered to be one of the most
heterogeneous groups in Canada (Tran et al.,
2005), the themes described in this study may
not be representative of experiences encoun-
tered by students from other South Asian groups
(e.g., Afghani and Pakistani Canadians).
Directions for Future Research
Our findings suggest several directions for
future research. First, research should be con-
ducted across various universities in different
Canadian provinces to determine whether ra-
cial microaggressions manifest differently in
different contexts. Second, future research
should include ethnic groups that were not
represented in this study (e.g., Afghani and
Pakistani Canadians); this will help uncover
additional nuances in experiences with racial
microaggressions. To this end, future research
also might collect more nuanced information
about participants’ backgrounds, beyond eth-
nic self-identification, such as information on
linguistic heritage and ancestral national ori-
gin. They may also wish to examine the rela-
tions between ethnic identification and the
differential experiences of racial microag-
gressions. Third, future research might exam-
ine explicitly the relations between level of
acculturation, time spent in Canada, genera-
tional status, language proficiency, and expe-
riences with racial microaggressions. Despite
variation in time spent in Canada among our
participants, no differences were apparent.
Fourth, given that our study included only
two men and suggested varying experiences
with racial microaggressions by gender, fu-
ture research could examine gendered racial
microaggressions among South Asian Cana-
dians to gain a deeper understanding of
unique experiences. Finally, as researchers
have begun to examine coping with racial
microaggressions (e.g., Hernández et al.,
2010;Houshmand et al., in press;Lewis,
Mendenhall, Harwood, & Browne Huntt,
2012), it would be useful to do so among
South Asian Canadian students. Such re-
search could be used to facilitate the devel-
opment of healthy coping strategies, thereby
increasing resilience.
Implications for University Personnel
The findings from the current investigation
point to several implications for Canadian univer-
sities. As documented in previous literature (e.g.,
Sue, Bucceri et al., 2007) and supported in our
206 POOLOKASINGHAM, SPANIERMAN, KLEIMAN, AND HOUSHMAND
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study, there are psychological and social costs to
experiencing racial microaggressions. Feeling
marginalized and alienated by dominant group
members, some participants disengaged from so-
cial life on campus, whereas others disengaged
from class participation. Given that universities
are spaces that influence the social and intellectual
growth of students (Pushkin & Colon-Gonzalez,
1998), administrators have an obligation to create
more inclusive environments and enhance campus
racial climates. We know that racism toward vis-
ible minorities exists across various Canadian in-
stitutions of education (e.g., see Henry & Tator,
2009 and Samuel & Burney, 2003). Thus, while
our study was conducted only at one Canadian
university, it is likely that the findings are relevant
for other predominantly White, research-intensive
Canadian institutions of higher learning.
We propose three approaches to aid univer-
sities in fostering more inclusive environ-
ments for South Asian (and potentially other
visible minority students). First, universities
should take initiatives to increase awareness
of racial microaggressions and cultivate cul-
tural sensitivity among peers, faculty, teach-
ing assistants, and staff. This may include
mandatory training programs for university
personnel (Sue et al., 2009) and workshops
for students during orientation or in residence
hall programming. Second, universities
should create opportunities for continued in-
tergroup dialogue on issues pertaining to
race-based privilege, power, and oppression,
as this has the potential to promote healthy
race relations among students (Watt, 2007).
Scholarship by Spanierman, Neville, Liao,
Hammer, and Wang (2008) has indicated that
although participation in both formal (e.g.,
classroom activities) and informal diversity
experiences (e.g., cross-racial friendships)
can positively influence diversity attitudes
among White students, formal experiences
may be more pertinent for students of color.
Third, university administrators must provide
resources to enhance internal and external
support and coping mechanisms for South
Asian Canadian students, as well as students
from other visible minority and Aboriginal
groups. This might include providing re-
sources to campus cultural clubs, developing
campus support networks, establishing con-
crete procedures to deal with student griev-
ances, and offering coping skills training for
South Asian Canadian students. In sum, Ca-
nadian institutions of higher learning have a
pivotal role to play in drawing attention to the
negative effects of racial microaggressions
and fostering greater sensitivity and justice
among staff, faculty, and students.
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... In spite of this, there are insufficient statistics on the mental health of South Asians in Canada [11]. Compared to White Canadians, South Asians are more likely to have college and university degrees; however, they encounter more barriers in obtaining employment and are often given lower employment income than White Canadians, suggesting that they are targets of systemic discrimination [57]. In a study on the impact of racism on South Asian university students, by Samuel [58], all participants strongly reported being the targets of racism at university, through feeling minimized, silenced, alienated, and excluded by peers, along with vicarious racism. ...
... Similarly, another focus group study identified certain microaggression themes-being "fresh off the boat," not a part of Canadian society, assumptions of how they prefer to socialize, and ascribed stereotypes of intelligence and abilities (math and science) for which they felt exploited, and for men, being associated with terrorism. Finally, they felt that "being brown" is a liability and a barrier to success [57]. Additionally, South Asian women's narratives indicated that they experience pressures to assimilate and internalize White beauty standards and behaviour, and despite being born in Canada, were othered [59]. ...
... The existing Canadian literature displays common themes and contrasts in the psychological ramifications of each group's racial trauma. In addition to daily and lifetime racism, many groups reported other events of racism that significantly contributed to their traumatization; common events included health care discrimination for Indigenous [36] and immigrant/refugee populations [66], systemic discrimination for Indigenous [36] and Asian Canadians [57], and racial profiling for Black [50] and LGBT-POC Canadians [97]. As a consequence, various symptoms associated with trauma were exhibited by each group (Table 1). ...
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Purpose of Review While research has identified racial trauma in other contexts, it is often overlooked amongst Canadian society. Racial trauma occurs as a result of an event of racism or cumulative events over time whereby an individual experiences stress and consequent mental health sequelae. Given that the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and/or Person of Colour) population in Canada is increasing, it is imperative to identify racial discrimination and the subsequent stress and trauma associated with being racialized in Canada, which subjects BIPOC Canadians to various forms of racism, including microaggressions. Recent Findings This paper reviews the published literature on racism and racial discrimination that identifies or infers racial trauma as the source of the mental health implications for various groups (e.g., Indigenous people, Black Canadians, Asian Canadians, immigrants, and refugees). In addition, intersectionality of racialized persons is prominent to their psychological well-being as their psychosocial and socioeconomic position are complex. Therefore, this paper both provides insight into the Canadian experience as a person of colour and signifies the need for further research on racial trauma in a Canadian context. Summary Despite Canada’s emphasis on multiculturalism, racialized individuals are at risk for racial trauma due to prejudice and discrimination. The politicization of multiculturalism has permitted Canada to deny claims of racism, yet the historical basis of established institutions results in irrefutable systemic and systematic barriers for Canadian people of colour.
... Many people of color report that they encounter disbelief when they demonstrate academic excellence or express professional career ambitions (Canel-Çınarbaş & Yohani, 2018;Robinson-Wood et al., 2015). However, reverse assumptions are often made about people of Asian heritage; others assume they are smart, studious, and good at math and science (e.g., Poolokasingham et al., 2014;. ...
... This microaggression occurs when people of color are avoided or measures are taken to prevent physical contact or close proximity (Canel-Çınarbaş & Yohani, 2019;Houshmand et al., 2014;Kanter et al., 2017;Leyerzapf & Abma, 2017;Nadal, Vigilia Escobar, et al., 2012;Poolokasingham et al., 2014). This includes the exclusion of members of targeted groups through physical distancing. ...
... 2011);Nadal, Griffin, et al. (2012);Nadal et al. (2013);Nadal, Vigilia Escobar, et al. (2012);Poolokasingham et al. (2014); W. A.Smith, Yosso, & Solorzano (2007);Sue et al. (2008);; Williams et al. Clark et al. (2014); Houshmand et al. (2014); Huber & Cueva (2012); Johnson-Ahorlu (2013); A. E. Lewis et al. (2000); Nadal, Vigilia Escobar, et al. (2012); Poolokasingham et al. (2014); Robinson-Wood et al. (2015); W. A. Smith, Yosso, & Solorzano (2007); Suárez-Orozco et al. (2015); Sue, Bucceri, et al. (2007); Sue et al. (2008); Williams et al. individual's racial or ethnic identity should not be acknowledged, which can be invalidating for people who are proud of their identity or who have suffered because of it Kanter et al. ...
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Harvard psychiatrist Chester Pierce’s conception of “subtle and stunning” daily racial offenses, or microaggressions, remains salient even 50 years after it was introduced. Microaggressions were defined further by Sue and colleagues in 2007, and this construct has found growing utility as the deleterious effects of microaggressions on the health of people of color continues to mount. Many studies seek to frame microaggressions in terms of a taxonomic analysis of offender behavior to inform the assessment of and interventions for the reduction of racial microaggressions. This article proposes an expansion and refinement of Sue et al.’s taxonomy to better inform such efforts. We conducted a review of published articles that focused on qualitative and quantitative findings of microaggressions taxonomies ( N = 32). Sixteen categories of racial microaggressions were identified, largely consistent with the original taxonomy of Sue et al. but expanded in several notable ways. Building on our prior research, other researchers supported such new categories as tokenism, connecting via stereotypes, exoticization and eroticization, and avoidance and distancing. The least studied categories included the denial of individual racism from Sue et al., and newer categories included reverse-racism hostility, connecting via stereotypes, and environmental attacks. A unified language of microaggressions may improve understanding and measurement of this important construct.
... We refer to this type of microaggression as encountering expectations of intellectual inferiority. Note that intelligence-related racial microaggressions that target Asian Americans and South Asian Canadians tend to pigeonhole, rather than denigrate, into stereotypical domains (Ong et al., 2013;Palmer & Maramba, 2015;Poolokasingham et al., 2014;Sue et al., 2009;. In one study, South Asian Canadian participants described encountering expectations of being skilled in STEM fields but not English literature . ...
... A common theme in the literature related to encountering assumptions of homogeneity is the target's experience with perpetrators who put them in the position of spokesperson for one's group, or what we refer to as compelled to be a cultural expert. This theme occurred across racial groups (e.g., Poolokasingham et al., 2014;M. T. Williams et al., 2020) and implies that one person can (and should) speak for their entire group. ...
... When professors, teaching assistants, peers, or acquaintances perpetrate this racial microaggression, targets often feel hypervisible (i.e., the flip side of invisibility). In one study, a South Asian Canadian woman felt compelled to respond to questions about the Bindi (i.e., Sanskrit term for "dot" worn on the forehead for religious, social, or accessorizing purposes; Poolokasingham et al., 2014). In another study, after being asked why Black people droop their pants, a Black college student replied, "And, it's just like I speak for all Black people because I'm Black? ...
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In this article, we review the theoretical and empirical literature on racial microaggressions from 2007 to 2020 ( N = 138 articles). First, we refine racial microaggressions theory and update the definition to address mischaracterizations in the literature and clarify the term (i.e., “micro” refers to microlevel interactions rather than degree of harm). Next, we used four superordinate categories (i.e., pathologizing differences, denigrating and pigeonholing, excluding or rendering invisible, and perpetuating color-blind racial attitudes) in which to situate racial microaggression themes from the extant literature. Moreover, we consolidated and renamed existing themes to privilege targets’ perspectives (e.g., facing assumptions of inferior status and enduring exoticization). We then synthesized qualitative and quantitative research that shows harmful sequelae of racial microaggressions (i.e., psychological and physiological symptoms). Extending prior research on coping with gendered racial microaggressions, we describe empirical findings on collective, resistance, and self-protective strategies to mitigate the harmful impact of racial microaggressions. We conclude with directions for future research.
... Few studies focus specifically on South-Asian students in Canada, domestic or international (Arora 2019;Houshmand, Spanierman, and Tafarodi 2014;Sandhu and Nayar 2008). Poolokasingham et al. (2014) argue that South-Asian students are targets of racist comments and microaggressions, such as being perceived as 'fresh off the boat', being excluded from social activities, and hearing negative comments about their brownness. In the context of BC, South-Asian youth are often associated with the public perception of gangs (Sandhu and Nayar 2008). ...
... For example, the established Indian community in Baas's (2010) study, self-identified as 'Australians, and that this was "their country"; something which these students in their eyes were clearly not' (60). It seems that in their efforts to be perceived as 'mainstream Canadians' and avoid marginalisation and microagression from 'mainstream students' (Poolokasingham et al. 2014), domestic Punjabi students construct PIS as 'others'. ...
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This study explores the experiences of Punjabi international undergraduate students (PIS) at a Canadian university (KPU). Many PIS choose to study at KPU because of its proximity to one of the largest Punjabi communities in the Indian diaspora. By drawing on the concept of ‘intraethnic othering’, the article demonstrates that while the proximity of an ethnic community of the same origin was an important source of support, the large influx of PIS created new tensions with the older, more established community. It highlights the need for universities to move beyond business models when recruiting international students in order to consider the ways in which international students’ intraethnic relations might impact their academic trajectory and adjustment to the host country.
... While some of the stereotypes in the United States about AAW may be shared across different Asian ethnicities, our study is limited in generalizability beyond the major identities represented in the sample. For instance, some of the body-related aspects of the GRM and internalized racism may be more representative of East Asian AAW and not as applicable to AAW of South and Southeast Asian backgrounds (Poolokasingham et al., 2014). Furthermore, AAW who spent less time acculturating in the United States may have different perceptions and identifications with racism (Keum et al., 2018b), and sexual minority AAW may experience additional intersecting layers of oppression (Balsam et al., 2011). ...
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Background: Despite suicide being the leading cause of death among emerging adult Asian American women (AAW), little is known about the risk factors. Aim: We tested whether gendered racial microaggressions stress (GRMS) would be associated with AAW’s suicidal ideation, and whether internalized racism (self-negativity, IRSN; weakness stereotypes, IRWS; and appearance bias, IRAB) would exacerbate this link based on self-devaluating implications of internalized racism. Method: Using a sample of 309 AAW (Mage = 20.00, SD = 6.26), we conducted a moderated logistic regression with GRMS predicting suicidal ideation (endorsement or no endorsement) and the three internalized racism factors (IRSN, IRWS, and IRAB) as moderators. Results: GRMS significantly predicted suicidal ideation with a threefold increase in the odds of suicidal ideation. Only IRSN significantly exacerbated this link at low to mean levels. Conclusion: Gendered racial microaggressions is likely a risk factor for suicidal ideation among AAW, particularly for those who internalize negative images of themselves as Asian individuals.
... The observed misclassification of outgroup faces may have considerable real-world consequences, for example in forensic settings where law enforcement officers may use either explicitly or implicitly a suspect's ethnicity. Likewise, some research suggests that, post 9/11, South Asians living in the United States experienced misclassification as Middle Eastern, resulting in identity threat, stereotyping, and prejudice (Joshi, 2006;Bhatia, 2008;Poolokasingham et al., 2014). ...
Book
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With increasing interconnectedness of the world, intensifying migration flows and the rise of the right-wing populism in many countries, the topic of intercultural relations has become more and more relevant. Cultural and linguistic diversity brings both opportunities and challenges by, on the one hand, enriching human communication and enhancing societies’ creative potential, and on the other hand, bringing rapid change, threatening the status quo and demanding adaptation to the new circumstances from all members of multilingual and multicultural societies.At the heart of these intercultural relations are stereotypes. Stereotyping is a cognitive mechanism that underlies all aspects of intercultural processes: the way we perceive members of other groups shapes our attitudes and behavior towards them. This position stereotypes at the beginning of a sequence of psychological processes: cognition (stereotypes); affect (attitudes); and actions (discrimination). The fundamental role that stereotypes play in attitude formation and discrimination makes them an important target for scientific inquiry.Stereotypes are complex in nature. They are affected by psychological, sociocultural, sociolinguistic and geopolitical processes, which makes the study of stereotypes relevant to researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds. A vast body of literature accumulated so far illuminates the processes of stereotype formation and activation, their content and functions, their antecedents and consequences. However, the studies of stereotypes are scattered across various research areas: social, (cross-)cultural and cognitive psychology, ethnic studies, sociology, intercultural communication and management, social neuroscience, and others. Researchers working within these areas often use different terminology and diverging theoretical and methodological approaches. The lack of integration and interdisciplinary debate hinders the development of this field of research.The current book aims to bring together researchers from different disciplinary, theoretical and methodological backgrounds to create a space for exchange and integration of ideas. We welcomed contributions on the role of stereotypes in intercultural relations, including on cultural-ecological variations in stereotyping, how ethnic stereotypes are formed and maintained, how they change and what role they play in intergroup relations, intercultural communication, and acculturation processes. We believe this collection will contribute to the convergence of these research streams and will set directions for the further development of these fields separately.
... The observed misclassification of outgroup faces may have considerable real-world consequences, for example in forensic settings where law enforcement officers may use either explicitly or implicitly a suspect's ethnicity. Likewise, some research suggests that, post 9/11, South Asians living in the United States experienced misclassification as Middle Eastern, resulting in identity threat, stereotyping, and prejudice (Joshi, 2006;Bhatia, 2008;Poolokasingham et al., 2014). ...
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This paper serves three specific goals. First, it reports the development of an Indian Asian face set, to serve as a free resource for psychological research. Second, it examines whether the use of pre-tested U.S.-specific norms for stimulus selection or weighting may introduce experimental confounds in studies involving non-U.S. face stimuli and/or non-U.S. participants. Specifically, it examines whether subjective impressions of the face stimuli are culturally dependent, and the extent to which these impressions reflect social stereotypes and ingroup favoritism. Third, the paper investigates whether differences in face familiarity impact accuracy in identifying face ethnicity. To this end, face images drawn from volunteers in India as well as a subset of Caucasian face images from the Chicago Face Database were presented to Indian and U.S. participants, and rated on a range of measures, such as perceived attractiveness, warmth, and social status. Results show significant differences in the overall valence of ratings of ingroup and outgroup faces. In addition, the impression ratings show minor differentiation along two basic stereotype dimensions, competence and trustworthiness, but not warmth. We also find participants to show significantly greater accuracy in correctly identifying the ethnicity of ingroup faces, relative to outgroup faces. This effect is found to be mediated by ingroup-outgroup differences in perceived group typicality of the target faces. Implications for research on intergroup relations in a cross-cultural context are discussed.
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In late summer of 2018, I embarked on a project that involved analyzing probation and parole offices. The original purpose was to understand how architectural features of these offices keep them hidden from the public. As no such data set existed, I created my own by driving to offices and photographing them. This paper discusses the challenges of conducting this photo documentation project, paying special attention to how concerns of fear and safety impacted the data-generation process. I provide an embodied account of how my personhood relates to a social science research question and offer a methodological intervention on the risks of conducting visual criminological studies. I conclude by discussing the broader implications for qualitative criminological research and the field.
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Asians are not immune to racial discrimination and discrimination against Asians has heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic because they were blamed as the origin of the virus. A pre-registered 14-day diary explored if self-compassion was associated with subjective well-being and protective behaviors for Asians (U.S. & Canada) who faced COVID-19 discriminations (N = 82 & ndiaries =711). Participants reported discriminations experience for 28% (U.S.) and 25% (Canada) of their days. Daily self-compassion predicted daily subjective well-being despite COVID-19 discrimination experience. Daily self-compassion predicted increased COVID-19 protective behaviors on days Asian Americans experienced COVID-19 discrimination. Daily acceptance, but not daily reappraisal, explained the link between daily self-compassion and daily subjective well-being. These findings could not be accounted for by daily self-esteem.
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In this qualitative study, the authors examined responses to racial microaggressions among undergraduate Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) (N = 36) at a large Canadian university. To this end, we employed the consensual qualitative research method (CQR; Hill et al., 2005; Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997; Hill, 2012) among seven focus groups. Canadian undergraduate student participants, who self-identified as East Asian (n = 7), South Asian (n = 7), Arab (n = 9), Black (n = 7), and Indigenous (n = 6), expressed four strategic responses to racial microaggressions: using humor to mitigate tension, seeking community and solidarity for support, avoiding or withdrawing for protection and confronting perpetrators and challenging stereotypes. Findings demonstrated the dialectic between avoiding and confronting racial microaggressions, the nuanced role of using humor as a response strategy, and the importance of social support for BIPOC students. Findings are consistent with and extend current proposals of microinterventions. Social identity markers and power dynamics influenced students’ response strategies. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.
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This article explores young South Asian women’s accounts of being subject to surveillance within a post-September 11th United States political framework, using a combination of surveillance studies and a postcolonial studies attention to practices of racialization and belonging. It looks at non-technological practices of person-to-person surveillance of South Asian women by non-authoritative white Americans. The article discusses young women’s accounts of feeling ‘stared at’ by other Americans in public space, and examines how the effects of this surveillance relates to young women’s identities as South Asians in America. The article argues that citizen surveillance practices have racialized outcomes for young women of South Asian descent that sometimes consolidates a South Asian racial subjectivity within the US. The fieldwork also uncovers an extension of arguments about racialized surveillance to consider cultural bodily practices and clothing artifacts alongside racial identity.
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The mission statements and recruitment campaigns for modern Canadian universities promote diverse and enlightened communities. Racism in the Canadian University questions this idea by examining the ways in which the institutional culture of the academy privileges Whiteness and Anglo-Eurocentric ways of knowing. Often denied and dismissed in practice as well as policy, the various forms of racism still persist in the academy. This collection, informed by critical theory, personal experience, and empirical research, scrutinizes both historical and contemporary manifestations of racism in Canadian academic institutions, finding in these communities a deep rift between how racism is imagined and how it is lived. With equal emphasis on scholarship and personal perspectives, Racism in the Canadian University is an important look at how racial minority faculty and students continue to engage in a daily struggle for safe, inclusive spaces in classrooms and among peers, colleagues, and administrators.