Microaggressions: Fact vs. Myth | FACTUAL FEMINIST
Several months ago, yours truly, the Factual Feminist was
the victim of a microaggression. Body-acceptance activist Lindy West tweeted:
“Why does Christina Hoff Sommers constantly look like she’s being drained of her gelfing
essence?” For those who are not up on Muppet fandom,
here is what happens when a gelf loses her essence: Now, you might find this funny. It made my
own mother laugh. But it’s a textbook microaggression. According to Columbia Teacher’s College
professor Derald Wing Sue microaggressions are those everyday comments or quips used
by the privileged to keep others in their place. Lindy’s tweet was a lookist, ageist,
and gelfist reminder of my devalued status as an age-enhanced woman.
Here are some other microaggressions: asking someone who appears to be Asian or Hispanic
where they were born. Using words such as “crazy,” or “lame.” Calling the United
States a melting pot, or referring to a group of women as “you guys.” Experts say these
comments are “otherizing” and hurtful. Microaggressions may seem trivial. But Sue
and his colleagues argue that they are dangerous because of their triviality.
Over time, the theory goes, microaggressions accumulate to form an invisible, relentless,
and degrading system of control. Professor Sue summarized the damage they inflict in
his influential treatise Microaggressions in Everyday Life.
“They deplete psychic energy…produce physical health problems, shorten life expectancy—and
deny equal access to education…” Colleges have acted swiftly to protect their
students. . At Berkeley, North Carolina and University of Minnesota, microaggression training
is a key part of diversity education. At the University of Santa Cruz, a psychology professor
even developed a microaggression mobile app. Mostly, students seem to be reporting lame
jokes: “I told a male identified friend that I
am taking a class called “Women’s Lives”. He jokingly said, “So are you going to learn
how to make a sandwich?” Here’s another:: “My friend asked if I
was drinking for ‘Cinco de Drinko.’ It offended me to think that a significant battle
in Mexican history has come to be a joke.” Dear offended person: It wasn’t a significant
battle. They were fighting the FRENCH. Almost no one in Mexico cares about this holiday.
It’s largely the invention of Tequila and Corona Beer distributors in the U.S. Calm
down. Have a drink. I’ll even make you a sandwich.
Over 200 colleges have established Bias Response Teams that spring into action in response
campus microevents. The Bias Team at Wisconsin-Platteville received an anonymous tip that 3 students
had posted a potentially ablest photo of themselves on Facebook. Here they are dressed up as the
Three Blind Mice. The photo has been removed. The Factual Feminist is concerned. This new
microaggression regime appears to be empowering spies, busybodies, and scolds. And it turn
out, there’s no real research to back it up.
In a recent paper, Emory University psychologist Scott Lilienfeld exposes at least three fatal
flaws in microaggression scholarship: ONE: Lilienfeld could not find a coherent
definition of the term “microaggression.” It appears to be anything Dr. Sue and his
followers say it is. TWO: The researchers never bothered to find
out if African-American, Hispanics, Asians, Women, are actually OFFENDED by the items
on their lists. Members of marginalized groups don’t all think or react alike.
THREE: Sue and company claim that microaggressions exact a devastating toll over time. He even
mentioned a shortened lifespan. But Lilienfeld couldn’t find a single well-designed study
linking microaggressions to such outcomes. Derald Wing Sue replied to Lilienfeld’s
critique. He concedes all of Lilienfeld’s major points. But he faults Lilienfeld’s
for his fixation on elitist research methods favored by the “dominant society”. By
demanding things like valid measurements and evidence of causality, Sue says Lilienfeld
is dismissing the “the lived experiences of marginalized groups.” In sum: Sue finds
Lilienfeld critique of microaggression theory to be—microaggressive!
But, wait a minute. I am a woman, and I find microaggression theory to be macro-annoying.
I’m not bothered when someone addresses my friends and me as “You Guys.” Or when
they tell lame jokes, pardon the expression. Who cares? Not me—and I suspect—not most
women. So I’m calling out Sue for mansplaining
my lived experience as a female identified person. Am I calling Sue and his colleagues
is microaggressors? Yes, and that’s exactly the problem. The
theory is so amorphous that it’s meaningless—it can be used by anyone, anywhere, for anything.
It’s a game we all can play, but none can win. So why play it?
Look, I sympathize with school officials want students to be respectful of one another.
I want that too. But as the American Civil Liberties Union says, “Verbal purity is
not social change.” Bias response teams, anonymous informants, mobile apps—these
threaten free expression and suppress normal human interaction. Friendship is the best
way to overcome bigotry, real or imagined. Maybe the only way.
A word to university administrators: There’s no evidence that microaggressions are hurting
your students. But your attempts to eradicate them are hurting freedom and friendship.
What do you guys think of the microaggression movement? Let me know in the comments’ section.
And please subscribe to the series and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for
watching the Factual Feminist.
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