Purveyor of Truth
Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.
Some recent campus actions border on the surreal. In April, at Brandeis University, the Asian American student association sought to raise awareness of microaggressions against Asians through an installation on the steps of an academic hall. The installation gave examples of microaggressions such as “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?” and “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race.” But a backlash arose among other Asian American students, who felt that the display itself was a microaggression. The association removed the installation, and its president wrote an e-mail to the entire student body apologizing to anyone who was “triggered or hurt by the content of the microaggressions.”
This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion. During the 2014–15 school year, for instance, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.
The above is an excerpt from The Atlantic and clearly and accurately expresses the views of this weblog. With the increasing attention to and focus on whatever anyone might find to be offensive speech one can not avoid thinking that America is becoming more and more anal with each passing month.
Racism. bigotry, hate speech, and misogyny are of course wrong and attempts to educate and sensitive people to the ugly wrongness of them is proper and desirable. As is having appropriate laws on the books to deal with physical acts of aggression that are driven by any of them.
Speech is the verbal conveyance of information, knowledge, or expression of ideas. Attempting to silence ideas and or phrases that someone or a particular group finds offensive is fool hardy. Silencing what some find offensive will not make the idea or thoughts go away but will serve to create tension which my very well erupt in a even less desirable way.
A more effective way to approach handling insensitivity and offensive speech is through open rational discussion that exposes the racism, bigotry, and etc. that is deemed offensive and therefore inappropriate. Most people when confronted with truth and reason choose the path of both. Attempts to shield, or "protect" young adults from words and thoughts that might cause emotional distress or hurt their self esteem ultimately will result in greater division and polarization within our multi-cultural society.
Reasoned based education is the answer to combating irrational beliefs.