[Probably applies to how former Mormons feel around Mormon friends and family.]
Not So Subtle: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Correlates of Subtle and Overt Discrimination DOI: 10.1177/0149206313506466 Kristen P. Jones, Chad I. Peddie, Veronica L. Gilrane, Eden B. King and Alexis L. Gray. published online 11 October 2013Journal of Management
We contend that the ramifications of subtle discrimination are at least as substantial, if not more substantial, than the consequences of overt discrimination for three reasons. First, subtle discrimination is particularly deleterious given the difficulty in its identification and assessment (Hebl, Foster, Mannix, & Dovidio, 2002; King, Dunleavy, et al., 2011). Indeed, attributional ambiguity theory predicts that negative feedback will be attributed to prejudiced evaluators in clear but not ambiguous situations. Thus, targets of overt discrimination can easily externalize the negative experience to discrimination (e.g., “it’s not my fault they are prejudiced”) whereas targets of subtle discrimination may instead make internal attributions (e.g., “it’s not them, it’s me”). Experimental evidence confirms this expectation, showing that Black targets attribute negative feedback to prejudiced evaluators when their own race is observable but not when it may be hidden. This phenomenon has implications for selfesteem, self-regulation, and task performance (Crocker, Voelkl, Testa, & Major, 1991; Salvatore & Shelton, 2007; Singletary, 2009). Thus, harmful actions with ambiguous intent might be even more confusing and stressful for targets as compared to explicitly discriminatory actions.
Second, because subtle discrimination is often more difficult to detect than overt discrimination (Hebl et al., 2002), targets may experience subtle discrimination more negatively than overt discrimination as a function of the sheer fact that there are not as many clear options for reporting and/or remedying this type of treatment. Many organizations have formal policies in place for reporting overt discriminatory behaviors (Hebl et al. 2002); however, the means by which subtle discrimination can be reported and addressed are less clear.
Third and finally, subtle discrimination may be more damaging for targets because of its higher frequency and thus the chronic nature of its effects. Indeed, extant research has argued that one reason for the particularly damaging impact of subtle discrimination lies in its pervasiveness, whereas overt discriminatory behavior may occur less often (Van Laer & Janssens, 2011). This notion is consistent with research showing that chronic stress is a stronger predictor of depressive symptoms as compared to acute stress (McGonagle & Kessler, 1990). Furthermore, studies that have examined both subtle and overt forms of discrimination tend to show that participants report experiencing subtle discriminatory behaviors more frequently overall as compared to overt discrimination (Utsey, Chae, Brown, & Kelly, 2002; Utsey & Ponterotto, 1999; Yoo, Steger, & Lee, 2010).
Our findings yield several important theoretical implications with regard to experiences of discrimination from the target’s perspective. For all examined outcomes, subtle discrimination exhibited a similar relationship with correlates as compared to overt discrimination, demonstrating that subtle discrimination is at least as detrimental to targets. Thus, our findings are consistent with both stress and coping models (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) as well as attributional ambiguity explanations (Crocker & Major, 1989; Crocker et al., 1991) in accounting for the potentially damaging impact of subtle discrimination. Specifically, our results build on attributional ambiguity theory in demonstrating that subtle discrimination may be particularly damaging to targets as a function of its inherently ambiguous nature. The ambiguity inherent in subtle discriminatory behaviors decreases the target’s ability to attribute the negative behavior externally and increases the likelihood the target will blame himself or herself for the negative experience, taking a toll on psychological well-being (Crocker et al., 1991). Furthermore, this process of deciding whether to attribute subtle discrimination externally or internally takes more time as compared to situations of explicitly overt discrimination, which enable targets to make quicker, easier external attributions to prejudice. Thus, our results are consistent with prior research that has shown that the heavier cognitive load required to make an attribution in the case of subtle discrimination impairs cognitive performance as compared to the lighter cognitive load associated with experiencing explicitly overt discrimination (Salvatore & Shelton, 2007; Singletary, 2009).
Finally, our meta-analytic results bolster the notion that subtle discrimination may be particularly harmful for targets because of its higher frequency and thus chronic nature. This is consistent with the notion of “accumulation,” or the idea that seemingly trivial microaggressions can accumulate over time to produce substantial negative impact on those who incur them (Cortina, 2008). Indeed, one simulation study illustrated this phenomenon by showing that seemingly inconsequential instances of male-female bias can accumulate over time, and it is the sum of these instances that coalesce into a single significant situation of bias (Martell, Lane, & Emrich, 1996).