The former first lady, Michelle Obama, recently weighed in on the problem of racial insensitivity, with an anecdote about what happened to her at Target. Only, the funny thing is that she told the story two different ways.
In 2014, in People magazine, Ms. Obama bemoaned being asked (by a short person) for help getting some detergent down off of a shelf. She said these “incidents are ‘the regular course of life’ for African-Americans and a ‘challenge’ for the country to overcome.” So, apparently she thought being asked for help was a racial slight, and that this example represented oppression of black people in America.
However, in 2012, she told David Letterman about the same experience: “I reached up, ’cause she was short, and I reached up, pulled it down — she said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to make it look so easy.’ That was my interaction. I felt so good.”
Amazing. The same interaction that was delightful in 2012 became an instance of racial oppression by 2014. This example, to me, is one illustration of a phenomenon that many observers have been noticing, in the country as a whole.
There seems to be a growing sensitivity for grievance. In this case, I wonder, what happened between 2012 and 2014 to cause Mrs. Obama to change her interpretation of the experience, from normal and friendly, to racial oppression? Did an advisor explain to her that being asked for help is racist? Was she looking for a racial grievance for the People interview, and this was the only thing she could come up with? We’ll never know.
And if, as Mrs. Obama implied, this is the sort of interaction that is a problem for black people in general, then what are we non-blacks to do? If we don’t want to give offense, yet the slightest thing might unpredictably give offense, then what are the chances of having a normal interaction with a black person?
Fortunately, most black people do not typically respond like Michelle Obama did in this instance (in 2014). It still works to treat people as individuals, regardless of their race. Most black people are still receptive to and appreciative of kind intentions toward them, as are most people of any race.
However, this grievance culture seems to be taking root in a big way on college campuses.
By now, you’ve probably heard about micro-aggressions, a new sort of Social Justice grievance. Basically, it comes down to this: Sometimes people say things others don’t like. If the people who take offense are on the Social Justice victim list (black, gay, female, etc.), and they think you’ve said something oppressive, then it may be called a “micro-aggression.”
Here are a few examples from a list of micro-aggressions that some students at Virginia Tech came up with:
- “You don’t have all the needed paperwork, so we can’t help you with accommodations.”
- “A disabled person being told ‘you’re so inspirational’ just for doing an everyday task.”
- “Being asked to present the black perspective in a predominantly white class.”
- “Being in a room full of fellow academics and be told that you speak ‘very intelligently’.”
- “Being asked if ‘there were piñatas’ at my friend’s party.”
And from the University of California school systems:
- “America is the land of opportunity”
- “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
These are supposedly serious offenses, in the same category as violence. A SJW may claim that this equivalence of words with physical violence has a scientific basis, but according to researcher Scott O. Lilienfeld, “A review of the literature reveals negligible support for all five suppositions [on which the micro-aggression research program rests].”
A recent study shows that many statements that appear on a widely-used list of micro-aggressions are, in fact, not found to be offensive by the vast majority of people of color. (The fact that this list is used in micro-aggression “trainings” probably means that these trainings are teaching people of color to be more easily offended rather than more resilient.)
There are many of these micro-aggression lists out there, and yes, some statements on these lists are statements most people would agree are rude. However, it’s easy to imagine many of these statements being made very innocently.
Omar Mahmood, a Muslim student at the University of Michigan, published a very funny column about being “left-handyd” which made fun of micro-aggressions. In response, four students littered his doorway, splattered eggs, and wrote hostile graffiti such as “You scum embarrass us,” and “Shut the f— up.” However, it was Mahmood, not the vandals, who was generally accused of being the aggressor, for making fun of micro-aggressions, and he lost a job over it.
A decade or two ago, there was an expectation that an innocent comment at which someone takes offense was something to brush off and forgive. If it was a little more serious, it could have merited a mutually respectful discussion, an apology, and that’s the end of it.
However, increasingly, there is an expectation that we (if we supposedly have “privilege”) should be able to predict what might offend someone (if they are a supposedly a “marginalized minority”). And if we don’t avoid saying or doing things which could offend a “marginalized minority” person, we will be accused of being an aggressor, as though we had physically attacked the person.
“The recent collegiate trend of uncovering allegedly racist, sexist, classist, or otherwise discriminatory microaggressions doesn’t incidentally teach students to focus on small or accidental slights. Its purpose is to get students to focus on them and then relabel the people who have made such remarks as aggressors.”
Another sign of increasing sensitivity on campus is the recent adoption of “trigger warnings”.
A “trigger warning” is a warning that something may be discussed which could “trigger” discomfort on the part of … well, someone. Trigger warnings probably started on the internet, to warn people about a graphic image, so that they could avoid the image if they didn’t want to be upset by it. The original intent was to protect people who had lived through a traumatic experience from seeing an image which could re-traumatize them.
However, now we have students demanding that their professors give trigger warnings for all sorts of content that bothers people.
“The New York Times reports that activists want many classics to have trigger warnings in effect printed on them like health advisories on cigarette packages. ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ for instance, would need the label ‘contains anti-Semitism.’ Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ would need a warning that it discusses suicide. Oberlin’s memo advised faculty that Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart,’ may ‘trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.’”
Unfortunately, the effect of all this is to censor what and how professors can teach. “When students come to expect trigger warnings for any material that makes them uncomfortable, the easiest way for faculty to stay out of trouble is to avoid material that might upset the most sensitive student in the class.”
We also see many examples of students claiming to feel “threatened and unsafe” because of some point of view they don’t like. For example, gay students at the University of New Mexico claimed that Chick Fil-A’s presence on campus made them feel threatened and unsafe.
Ironically, all of this hyper-sensitivity toward potentially uncomfortable feelings is actually detrimental to the mental health of the sensitive people themselves.
“Trigger warnings aren’t much help in actually overcoming trauma — an analysis by the Institute of Medicine has found that the best approach is controlled exposure to it, and experts say avoidance can reinforce suffering. Indeed, one professor at a prestigious university told me that, just in the last few years, she has noticed a dramatic upsurge in her students’ sensitivity toward even the mildest social or ideological slights; she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma — or, more consequentially, violating her school’s new sexual-harassment policy — merely by carrying out the traditional academic work of intellectual exploration. ‘This is an environment of fear, believe it or not,’ she told me by way of explaining her request for anonymity…. ”
There is a widespread perception that students in general are increasingly fragile, less resilient, when they arrive at college these days, compared to some years ago. However, a college culture that demands tiptoeing through eggshells, to avoid committing a micro-aggression, is surely reinforcing the perception of fragility, rather than building strength.
Ironically, one can predict that creating a micro-aggression minefield out of casual interactions will serve to further marginalize minorities. If this keeps up, I predict that eventually, as a consequence, more and more people will stop wanting to interact with minorities, for fear of being labeled an aggressor because of some innocent statement or act. Then, of course, we will be hearing about how avoiding minorities is a micro-aggression of growing concern. That’s my prediction; I do hope things turn out differently.
If SJWs actually want to help minorities to become less marginalized, a very good first step would be to teach and reward strength rather than fragility.
I am sad for you that you have to live through all the baloney. Advice: Seek out people who have emotional maturity, with whom you can have a relaxed relationship. Don’t be jerks, meaning do not purposefully give offense. At the same time, don’t be quick to take offense. Be forgiving.
As for the thin-skinned individuals who are caught up in micro-aggressions, do your best to avoid these people. When you have to interact with them, just say the minimum. Feel free to apologize even if you haven’t done anything wrong, if it makes them feel better.
If you can imagine what it would be like to go through life taking offense at the drop of a hat, perhaps you can have some sympathy for them. They probably are very unhappy people. They have worse problems than you have, so be kind to them.
However, remember inside yourself that this sort of walking-on-eggshells behavior does not really fit with who you are, and go back to the emotionally mature people as quickly as you can.
It is unfortunate for the thin-skinned people if they have been convinced by the SJW that taking offense easily is a good way to go through life. This is a profound disservice to them. However, it is not your responsibility to right this wrong. As long as the thin-skinned people believe that being thin-skinned is the solution, rather than the problem, they won’t want to change. It’s better just to leave them be until they themselves have a desire to change.
If you do ever feel it’s appropriate to challenge micro-aggression culture, however, then here’s one way:
- According to micro-aggression theory, these micro-aggressions are ways for the group in power to keep the marginalized people oppressed.
- On campus, the group with the power is leftists. Anyone to the right of center is marginalized on campus.
- On campus, leftists often say things that conservatives don’t like, and the conservatives feel that “their experiences… are negated by those who have the power to define reality [leftists]”.
- Therefore, leftists who push their view of the world onto conservatives are committing micro-aggressions.
- Imagine what the list would look like if we compiled a list of micro-aggressions that leftists often commit against conservatives on campus!
I wouldn’t bet on getting any agreement from SJWs on this; they have a lot of practice at maintaining double standards. However, it could make for an interesting discussion.
Once the SJWs have gotten everyone to accept a taboo on saying anything to offend supposedly oppressed people, they may actually go so far as to ask you to apologize for your race! I am not kidding. Click the link down on the right to find out more.