Papercuts of Oppression

When the personal injury law firm of Trolman, Glaser and Lichtman put this ad on TV in 2010, it was hailed as a return to sanity.  The title of the advertisement was “Machete.”

Back then, there was no word “microaggressions,” which, a student service at Princeton calls the “papercuts of oppression.”

“If you witness a microaggression and would like us to put it on blast, submit your experience,” encourages the page, which, by the way, also refers to microaggressions as “papercuts of oppression,” which are “so small but slice deep.”

Like a machete.

Princeton University students recently launched “Tiger Microaggressions,” a service that takes other students’ reports of microaggressions and publishes them on its Facebook page — so that no one has to “carry the burden alone to call out ” offenses against political correctness.

In a weird way, it’s understandable that students, despite their presumed intelligence and education, see this rhetoric as promoting a valid and socially useful service. Political correctness is a phrase only used by haters these days, and never on campus.  These students have been weaned on a culture that defines wrongdoing based on feelings, and exalts feelings over everything else. They don’t know any better.

But what does it mean?

According to the operators, “microaggressions are all around us” and anything can be a microaggression because “there are no objective definitions to words and phrases.”

“The perspective and lived experiences of each individual contextualizes the world around them and thus places a particular meaning in words based on their distinct subjectivity,” they explain. “What counts as harmless banter to some may be emotionally triggering to others.”

Machete.  But the truth of their assertion, that “there are no objective definitions to words and phrases,” is painfully accurate. Your harmless banter is someone else’s wrong. And theirs is yours. And that’s the world college students live in, and will bring to the broader society as they come of age.  Not just because they are young, foolish and immature, but because that’s what they’ve been trained to believe, and they believe.

Much as it’s easy to make fun of this as juvenile silliness, the tenor of the discussion of a far more serious matter, campus rape, is similarly guided by these principles.  After the Emily Yoffe discussion of false statistics repeated pervasively by media outlets, the media machine cranked up to dirty reality sufficiently that it wouldn’t impair the myth.

The paper of record’s Room for Debate lobbed a grenade into the post-UVA fiasco with a “debate” about justice and fairness in campus rape cases.  The debaters, which included academics, authors and activists, ranged from mildly supportive to wildly supportive.  Only one noted that the word “rape” had a legal definition, and argued that it must be changed.

The first thing to change is rape laws themselves. Despite the fact that a generation of adults has come of age hearing that “no means no,” in a majority of states, rape is still defined as requiring physical force.

The link in there goes to a Guardian post written by the same author, which repeats the same claim, with a link to Findlaw which is nothing more than a list of all fifty state’s sex laws.  Had a first year law student made such an assertion with such “proof,” she would flunk out. Yet it’s good enough for the New York Times. And its readers. And this law professor.

So what’s so terrible about being supportive of these people who are the “survivors” of a world where anything, at any moment, can cause them to suffer their personal sense profound trauma?  Aside from the obvious, bolstering their false sense of being harmed when they weren’t, as if feeling raped is the same as being raped, and elevating feelings of oppression to being oppressed, it trivializes actual harm.

One Princeton University student named Zeena Mubarak wrote a piece for the Daily Princetonian pointing out that putting seemingly innocuous posts next to clearly offensive, racist ones trivializes the latter.

“As a minority student on campus, I do want people to be aware of my experience and the things that can make students like me feel unwelcome,” Mubarak writes. “However, I do not want these concerns showcased alongside harmless jokes as though the two are in any way comparable.”

There are women who are raped. Forcibly raped. Raped while unconscious. Raped. And then there are women who claim, months later, that the sex that was consensual at the time is rape because they lacked the capacity to consent, even though they said “yes,” because they had a few beers with the guy.  And then there are women who aren’t sure, because the “fight or flight” reflex has been recalibrated to “fight, flight or freeze,” which entitles them to claim they were “too exhausted” to bother to say no. And then there are the women who want to be Queen for a Day in the “mythical” victim culture that can be seen everywhere while its existence is denied in the very same places.

One of the most significant complaints to come out of the UVA rape story fiasco is that it undermines the belief in victims of rape.  Indeed, it does, and that’s part of the problem that advocates, from those who cry that we must believe all victims no matter what the facts may show to those reject the notion that any victim would ever lie, that they are in fact true by definition, fail to grasp.

There are harms. There are harms to women, to minorities, to people.  And no one has done more to undermine the ability to address the real harms than those who use words without meaning and conflate phony hurt with real harm.

Tamir Rice didn’t suffer from a microaggression. He suffered from a bullet. He doesn’t feel hurt. He’s dead.  Tamir Rice is a victim, not a survivor. That’s because he didn’t survive. You were never at risk of death. You endured nothing that would earn you the right to call yourself a survivor.  Every time some falsely traumatized phony “survivor” claims that mantle, you spit on the dead body of a 12-year-old boy.

And here you are, crying about a machete.


22 comments on “Papercuts of Oppression

  1. David M.

    I feel like we shouldn’t be too quick to presume intelligence for these folks. This isn’t “just” rhetoric in service of a deplorable school of thought, but bad rhetoric, full stop. Dang.

    These guys will be my competition for business school in a few years, and when they say something like “The perspective and lived experiences of each individual contextualizes the world around them and thus places a particular meaning on words based on their distinct subjectivity”, I get all cheered up.

    1. SHG Post author

      Has it occurred to you that when you write your admissions essay, using words with actual meaning, no one will understand what you’re talking about?

      1. Nigel Declan

        As long as he does a reasonably good job of drawing Tippy the Turtle, it shouldn’t matter too much.

  2. Alice Harris

    Jeez. Grow up and quit your bitchin! Some folks need to be told to get a life and to quit wallowing about in meaningless mental gymnastics about which no one should care. Go away with your hurt feelings already.

  3. Richard G. Kopf


    “According to the operators, ‘microaggressions are all around us’ and anything can be a microaggression because ‘there are no objective definitions to words and phrases.’” If words have no meaning, then I have just been raped.

    All the best.


  4. Hannah

    You fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of the term “microaggressions.” There are many people who believe sexism is over, that racism is over because it’s no longer overt. (Mostly because people know they can’t get away with being outwardly racist or sexist, not because they aren’t racist or sexist.) Instead, it manifests in the small comments that reflect racist of sexist attitudes that you deride above. Hearing these microaggressions regularly from the day you learn to talk is death by a thousand cuts; they are insidious because no individual comment is worth putting up a fight over, but combined they ensure that members of underprivileged groups know they are less than those at the top.

    Accepting that microaggressions are damaging when you don’t hear them means accepting that the world is more than what you perceive or know. That your treatment is not shared by others, and thus you can’t rationalize away other people’s experiences—their hurt, their damage, their feelings—as you do above. Yes, there are big crimes that kill or do severe physical damage. But there is also mental damage by a thousand cuts. There is no point in comparing different kinds of pain. Your inability to acknowledge this shows how limited your worldview is.

    1. SHG Post author

      Yes, there are big crimes that kill or do severe physical damage. But there is also mental damage by a thousand cuts.

      Yes, we all understand that there are feelings, and that there is a generation so fragile and narcissistic that it can’t bear the “mental damage” of anything that hurts those feelings, whether real or imagined. And you expect the rest of the world to revolve around your feelings, to govern our every moment by how it affects you, because you are the center of the universe, special, and entitled. Grow up and snap out of it.

    2. Jim Majkowski

      The point isn’t really that “microaggressions” don’t damage, or even that such damage can and ought be endured and overcome, or even that both the individual and society as a whole might be better off if enduring and overcoming hurt feelings were preferred over whining about and wallowing in them, but that some harms really are more severe and deserving of scarce societal remedy.

      1. SHG Post author

        The point isn’t . . .

        Maybe your point isn’t, but mine most assuredly is, and it’s my point that is reflected here. Since when do you get to decide what my point is and isn’t?

            1. Ted H.

              I think I speak for you when I say that your post regarding the comments here was meant to engender pointless non sequiturs.

  5. Fubar

    From a recently tabled bill to establish a new and very small court of original jurisdiction for certain sufficiently small cases:

    Words and glances are microaggression,
    That oppress those possessed by obsession.
    For relief we resort
    To Supreme Microcourt™.
    With the blink of an eye it’s in session.

    Microvictims™ need not be forlorn:
    Microwitness™ accounts will be sworn.
    Microjudges™ preside.
    Microjuries™ decide
    Thus a new Microjustice™ is born!

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