Bed Bath and Beyond apologized for its “lack of sensitivity” in selling “blackface.” Not actual blackface, but jack-o’-lanterns that were black. Black, as in scary for Halloween, but which, if you consider that they are carved faces in a pumpkin that was black, could be construed as blackface if you squinted hard and desperately wanted to find blackface when it was a scary Halloween pumpkin.
Wilbur Aldridge, the regional director at the NAACP, said in a statement that the pumpkin design “shows an extreme lack of sensitivity.”
“By now I would believe everyone [would] know that anything in Black face is offensive… Equally as offensive is that a retail store would have such an item in [their] inventory for general purchase.”
A survey into the offensiveness of statements on social media by a Michigan State professor brought a backlash of outrage for its inclusion of statements that were offensive. It included a warning that offensive statements might be offensive, but that wasn’t sufficient for some students.
“The disclaimer was not a fair warning enough,” said Mya Jones, an MSU student who is black.
“I don’t feel safe, at all. I say that to a very extreme extent,” she said. “I do not feel safe, I do not know who to turn to.”
She wasn’t alone.
“The questions made me feel physically sick and sent me to tears,” she said.
The statements regarding Asians especially hurt and scared her.
One statement mentioned buying a gun to “kill every … Asian I see.” Another expressed the wish that Adolf Hitler could be reborn in Asia.
Following a “debate” at Cardozo Law School concerning whether Harvard law prof Ron Sullivan’s representation of Harvey Weinstein and the college’s ousting him as House Dean for Winthrop House, a question was raised as to the degree to which there is a duty to make people “feel safe.”
One student, for whom the concept of question and statement was apparently confusing, asserted that it was Harvard’s duty to the undergraduate students to provide them with a climate of complete safety, to protect them from any feeling, no matter how irrational or attenuated, of “unsafeness.”
Back at Yale in 2015, when Nicholas Christakis was confronted by a hysterical student, outraged by an email questioning whether students’ Halloween costumes had to be proscribed lest anyone be offended, the justification was that it made the students feel unsafe.
This email and the subsequent reaction to it have interrupted their lives. I have friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals, and who are having breakdowns. I feel drained. And through it all, Christakis has shown that he does not consider us a priority.
Does a black pumpkin cause trauma? Does a survey make a student feel “physically ill” and send her to “tears”? Does an email about Halloween costumes cause students to lose sleep, skip meals and have breakdowns?
During the Cardozo debate, no one had the temerity to raise the question of whether any of this was real or just performative nonsense. Nobody was brought to tears, but they could claim to “feel unsafe” and use their claim, something no one would or could challenge as feelings are sacrosanct, as the wedge to demand their perfectly safe world.
Is it a lie? Are these students truly so fragile, so soft and delicate, that their eyeballs seeing mean words made them bleed? It’s not as if anyone would respond to their claims with, “cut the crap, you’re putting on a show to pretend you’re traumatized by nothing because you believe that’s what you’re supposed to feel if you’re woke.”
So the claims can’t be questioned, and anything remotely twistable into some pretzel of trauma can be taken off the shelves, if not made to profusely apologize, for the remote appearance of offense as proclaimed by a victim.
Is there an entitlement to a world where no one says, does, shows or sells something that might make someone, no matter how sensitive, feel unsafe? It’s a question that doesn’t get asked as it’s insensitive in itself. One can’t challenge feelings with facts, reason or logic. Feelings are feelings, and everyone is entitled to their feelings, right?
But are they entitled to a world that caters to their feelings, no matter what those feeling may be?
At Yale, the student confronting Christiakis began with the proposition that it was his duty as Master (before the word was banned from the lexicon) to provide comfort for the students.
Had this student yelled at her father, “BE QUIET,” would he have let it go with such equanimity? If the expectation is that they be treated by the world as if everyone was their mother, would they be entitled to be shielded from anything that could conceivably hurt their feelings or be rationalized into something giving chaotic offense?
There are two overarching issues that have been taken off the table in addressing the myriad complaints of unsafeness. The first is whether anyone really feels unsafe at all, or they’re saying that because it’s an indisputable excuse that shuts down any challenge to their inanity. If a survey about offensive statements didn’t clue students in sufficiently that the statements would be offensive, is the proper reaction to terminate the survey and have the prof apologize, or explain in small words that it was too obvious to anyone capable of breathing, and anyone who strains to believe it needed a double secret trigger warning needs to get a firmer grip on reality.
And the second issue is whether the complaints that people are being thrust into a world of trauma, assuming it’s not play-acting by children to silence the grownups, shouldn’t result in a stern warning that they are not entitled to go through life wearing bubble wrap, never seeing, hearing or feeling anything that might offend them.
At this moment in time, the expectation of a world where no hurt feelings happen is becoming pervasive, largely because it goes unchallenged. Your mother wouldn’t put up with that crap. Why would anyone else?