Microaggressions Don’t Stifle Free Speech, Asshole Says

While discussion of microaggressions among grownups has yet to make it much farther than jokes and the occasional facepalm — with, of course, the exception of neo-feminists and social justice warriors, who may have attained the age of majority if not maturity — the discussion has been rampant on college campuses.  And they’re not making jokes about it.

In an op-ed at the University of South Florida’s Oracle, senior Isabelle Cavazzos tries to explain:

Hearing someone say America is the land of opportunity or America is a melting pot, attributions the country is prided for, usually doesn’t spark a debate.

However, as reported by the Huffington Post, a seminar on inclusivity at the University of California considers those statements microaggressions, which are snarky, yet subtle comments showing bias against another’s race or identity.

It’s unclear why calling America the “land of opportunity” is snarky.  Or subtle, for that matter.  It reflected a nation where the class status of Europe didn’t exist, so that anyone could work hard and do better than her parents, elevate her position even though she wasn’t the child of a viscount.  Children weren’t told that if their father was a ditch-digger, they too would be a ditch-digger. This wasn’t a bad thing.  And it wasn’t untrue.

What it did not mean was the every child was guaranteed to do better than their parent.  Nor did it mean that America was a nation without issues, or existed in a world without issues. And it’s quite possible that calling America the “land of opportunity” might make someone who failed to achieve more than her parents sad.

Of course, that was part of the incentive scheme. Some would refuse to accept failure and try harder. Others lacked the moxie to try harder, preferring instead to wallow in their misery and failure, and seek out the comfort of others who shared their misery, who would hold their hand, support their misery and assure them it’s not their fault that they failed, even though others succeeded, because they were victims.

Microaggressions are those words that, after carefully scrutinizing the language, are on the carefully crafted list of Things That Hurt Your Feelings.  The reason they had to create a list is that people wouldn’t know what to be angry about unless someone told them. And if no one created a list, microaggressions might just pass them by and they wouldn’t even know they’re supposed to be outraged about them. What a loss that would be.

But some complained that by demanding that words and phrases be excised from the dialogue, there would be a negative impact on free speech. Cavazzos explains why this is wrong:

After UC presented a set of examples of microaggressions, created by a Columbia University researcher, with similar lists being used at schools such as the University of Missouri and Texas A&M University, critics began arguing that it limits free speech and the discussion of controversial topics in a place where they should be most protected.

Instead of worrying that an awareness of microaggressions threatens free speech, universities should accept that this awareness is what makes people more mindful of their comments. They should encourage faculty and students to be self-critical of what they say, and that doesn’t harm open discussions.

The eradication of words and phrases that might cause minor offense to those who have carefully studied the list won’t limit the discussion of controversial topics, but will merely make people mindful and self-critical.  Try as I might, I can make no sense of this gibberish.

If anything, universities should embrace the notion of creating a more inclusive, progressive environment by being self-critical instead of being fearful their liberties are at stake.

That sounds really nice and comforting, but it’s pretty much the death of thought where feelings trump ideas because someone might be offended by an idea that doesn’t bolster their desire for “inclusiveness,” a word that is a microaggression in itself.

In contrast, a “rising junior” at Columbia, Alexandra Villareal, wrote an op-ed for the New York Post.

A few weeks ago, I was heralded as a “Social Justice Warrior” by an anonymous commenter on the Internet. The title was meant, of course, as an insult — but I was elated.

I imagined myself as a superhero, fighting one stigma at a time until the United States became a land of truly equal opportunity.

Okay, maybe “superhero” is a bit much, but she goes on.

We recognize the backwardness of our parents and laugh at their “ignorance” while they cry at ours. We isolate certain demographics from discussions because we’ve decided their voice has no place in our movement — or in our lives. Political correctness is a euphemism for exclusivity and closed-mindedness; it blocks all perceptions that defy the liberal millennial mold.

Atop our crumbling capacity to vocalize our values is a second tier of concerns: Because our energy is focused on how we present ourselves in a purely oratory sense, we’ve become superficial.

Everything is about what we say, not how we respond. We concentrate on the surface, nitpicking diction instead of processing substance.

One of these two is going to fight for her opportunity to achieve success in America, while the other is going to lock arms with those who will cry sad tears of microaggression with her.  Which one is which?

Bigotry won’t be eradicated by exchanging one word for another.

You want to fix the world? Great. Go do something positive, useful, productive.  Whining about words and phrases that offend you isn’t going to save you or anyone else, because there will still be grown-ups out here who don’t give a damn about your list of microaggressions.

If you don’t want people to call you an asshole, don’t be an asshole. And if you think you’re not an asshole, then demonstrate the capacity to explain why in language that isn’t rhetorical gibberish.  And there is a good chance you’re going to want to use all the words and phrases America has to offer. It’s okay. You won’t hurt my feelings.

16 thoughts on “Microaggressions Don’t Stifle Free Speech, Asshole Says

  1. Patrick Maupin

    Is it a microaggression when a prosecutor addresses the judge as “judge” rather than “your honor”? If not, would it have been a microaggression if the defense attorney had done so?

    1. SHG Post author

      There was a judge in Manhattan who said to me, “Mr. Greenfield, whenever you say ‘your honor,’ you make it sound like a slur.”

      “Yes, your honor.”

      1. Dragoness Eclectic

        “For Brutus is an honorable man;
        So are they all, all honorable men, —
        Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
        He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
        But Brutus says he was ambitious;
        And Brutus is an honorable man. “

  2. Beth

    From a legal standpoint, how is this policy limiting certain expressions different from say a policy that would eliminate using phrases like “global warming” in Florida governmental reports? Are the two contexts different enough that we need not worry about verboten phrasing extending to other issues that some people don’t want to think about?

    1. SHG Post author

      I have no clue why you begin with “from a legal standpoint,” as this isn’t a legal issue, per se. If words and phrases are taken off the table, then communication is undermined, meaning is obscured and the discussion of ideas is thwarted.

  3. Tweak

    I consider it a microaggression when someone attempts to “correct” my speech by telling me to use a more politically correct and socially sensitive phrase.

  4. Fubar

    It’s unclear why calling America the “land of opportunity” is snarky.

    It flaunts larceny, that’s why it’s snarky.
    Don’t believe me? Ask any proud Arky.¹
    Pay some rent. Sign a lease.
    Take our governors, please.
    But cut out this thievin’ malarkey!

    1. From 1950 through 1967, and 1975 through 1978, the Arkansas state nickname stamped on license plates was “Land of Opportunity”. From 1941 through 1949, the stamped nickname was “Opportunity Land”.

  5. JD

    While discussion of microaggressions among grownups has yet to make it much farther than jokes and the occasional facepalm
    When I first started reading your blog, I expected to have to do some googling to satisfy my own curiosities. I just never expected that those searches would include such things as microaggressions, cishets and trigger warnings but I am glad they did because they’ve been most amusing.

    1. SHG Post author

      When I started this blawg, the notion of such nonsense as microaggressions was inconceivable. There were real problems, real harm, bleeding and death. That we would reach a point where concerns would focus on such inane trivialities as microaggressions was ludicrous.

      Yet, here we are, with real world consequences for such nonsense. But then, years ago, the problem of delicate teacups and overwrought emotion was beginning to take hold, and when I look back, I realize this is the natural progression of narcissism run rampant. The bleeding and death goes on unabated, yet they cry and whine about the most absurd personal “affronts” that touch their special lives.

      They want to be offended? Take a bullet. Get railroaded. That’s offense. But all they see is themselves and their own special brand of hurt. And this is what’s becoming of our children, who live in a world that is obsessed over their every imaginary slight.

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