Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Microaggressions at Berkeley

Just because the proposed solutions smack of tyranny… it doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t real.

Recently, the University of California at Berkeley, a leading academic institution, has brought out a new faculty training guide in which it tells professors which sentences they should never to speak. Anyone who pronounces one of them in the presence of a Berkeley student will suffer some kind of sanction.

Sentences like: "America is the land of opportunity" are now banned. Presumably, all expressions of patriotism are heresies in the Church of the Liberal Pieties.

  • “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
  • “Affirmative action is racist.”
  • “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”
  • “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”
  • “I don’t believe in race.”
  • “Gender plays no part in who we hire.”
Defenders of this thought policing claim that they are protecting minority and majority (i.e. women) students. They explain that the latest research has shown that microaggressions cause: “… heart disease, diabetes, depression and substance abuse.” Like bacon, one supposes.

How to interpret these grossly offensive statements?

Saying that the most qualified person should get the job is code for: some people who get hired are manifestly unqualified. They owe their jobs to diversity quotas.

Saying that everyone can succeed by working hard enough means that those who have not succeeded are lazy.

Saying that you do not believe in race is a flat out lie. And saying that gender plays no role in your hiring practices is also a lie. Don't you understand that you are a bigot!

Obviously, these statements raise grievance-mongering to a new level. In its clumsy attempt to police speech the Berkeley administrators imagine that the problems of race and gender discrimination involve the way people exercise their right to free speech. And also, that they are unconscious racists who need to purge their psyches of their bigotry.

But, you will say, universities do not discriminate on the basis of race. Isn’t it the law?

If so, tell it to former UCLA professor, Tim Groseclose. He was forced out of his tenured position because he found evidence that the university was offering black applicants a preference because of their race.

Recently, thanks to the cultural influence of Barack Obama, in particular, the nation has become hyperconsciousness about matters of race. 

Apparently, all that extra awareness is not solving the problem. It is aggravating it.

However despotic its tendencies Cal-Berkeley recognizes that there is a problem.

It is easy to understand. Yesterday I was reading about a young African-American woman was admitted to a prestigious business school. Upon arriving on campus she discovered that just about everyone assumed that she was a beneficiary of a racial preference policy.

They let her know it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but the message was clear. She had not competed fairly. She had not earned her way. She was there for reasons of “diversity.” One might call them microaggressions, but the fault does not lie in the behavior as much as it lies in race preferences. We are so conscious of race preferences that we assume that they exist, whether or not they do.

As you know, some Asian students are now suing Harvard University for having a quota system that has allowed the university to discriminate against better qualified students, on the grounds of their race.

The result, as Shelby Steele pointed out decades ago, is detrimental to black students. A black student who has earned his or her admissions to a major university will be seen, unjustly, as having benefited from racial preferences. It is, at the least, demoralizing. It does not enhance performance.

Beyond that lies the problem of mismatch. Black students who are admitted in order to fulfill diversity needs often find that they cannot compete against students whose SAT scores were manifestly superior.

The result: they are more likely to drop out. When they do not drop out they gravitate to ethnic studies programs that practice grade inflation and that do not enhance their chances of getting jobs.

One recalls that when Lawrence Summers became president of Harvard he called in Cornell West, chairman of the Afro-American Studies department, to encourage him to do more serious scholarship. He also suggested that he try to put an end to grade inflation. Summers was denounced as a bigot.

If the practice of affirmative action produces what are called microaggressions, the solution is to abolish it. If it disadvantages the students who are supposed to profit from it, why not dispense with it entirely.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Our feelings-obsessed social proscriptions will be our undoing. We have become a society where the subjective is determining objective criteria based on passive-aggressive political desires. We're soft. Our enemies know it. This is not a high point of civilization... it is a perversion of it that will ultimately undo it.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

ANd it says its adapted from on this 2010 book:

According to a short wikibio, the author himself is of Chinese heritage, born here, but bullied for his race, and so much that he apparently has taken this as a life long cause.
And he's here too:
Psychologist and Columbia University professor Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership." Sue describes microaggressions as generally happening below the level of awareness of well-intentioned members of the dominant culture. Microaggressions are considered to be different from overt, deliberate acts of bigotry, such as the use of racist epithets, because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are unaware they are causing harm.

According to Sue et al., microaggressions seem to appear in four forms: microassault, microinsult, microinvalidation, microrape

Criticism - The microaggression theory has been criticized as oversensitive and paranoid. Many critics have argued that microaggressions are trivial and ignorable, possibly even nonexistent, and that the theory is simply self-victimization.

I think I'd go with Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication techniques for a practical response, and one of his messages is to never take anything someone else is saying personally, never hear an insult, and rather hear an unmet need in someone else's words, or I guess microaggressions.

From my own experience, and hearing from others, I'd generalize and say there are times when we take things personally and times when we don't, and the external communication can be identical, so it seems unrealistic to assume others can read us and know how their words are affecting us.

On the other hand, and it reminds me back to the idea of 6 primary emotions, and that we may be able to read emotions from others that they are not even aware of, if we're paying attention, and have some way to communicate that back to them, without a defensive response.

So the curious thing about feelings is they are in the body, not in the mind, and while others don't have clear access to our mind, in person, they do have visible cues in our body language and expressions to see things we don't even see about outselves.

And if you ask someone "Are you feeling angry now?" might "feel" like a microaggressive question, putting you "one up" over someone else, but if someone isn't even aware they're taking something personally, they can't take responsibliity for an unconscious response.

In any case, positive social relations would seem to put higher attention on how someone is responding to what we're doing or saying, and finding ways to test our understanding and respond, without complete repression.

We can dream of social rules of ettiquette (or political correctness version) and believe we'll all finally be safe, if only we can all agree on proper behavior, but that's just the lowest level. You can stop at every traffic signal, but you still need skills to get moving forward again when there are competing needs.

And in any case, if someone offends you, you have a right to ask if they intended offense, and you can choose to take their reply sincerely. That might clear up alot of foolish and painful assumptions.

Sam L. said...

The problem ("problem") is made up, out of whole cloth, to have a verbal cudgel with which to beat people and shame them.

Sam L. said...

Off topic, but your Miss Manners link leads only to her syndicator, U-Click, and not to any Miss Manners columns.

Ares Olympus said...

Sam L and Stuart, looks like this is a direct link:

Dennis said...

One can always tell when people think they are losing the debate. All of a sudden they desire civility, something they have denied to others,, speech that based more on feelings vice substantive dialogue and argumentation, and the desire to keep those who might disagree with them from talking.
Interesting considering that most of these academics need tenure because it protects their free speech rights and ability to challenge ideas that they would disagree. It would seem that these supposedly educated people now think tenure is unnecessary?
This is a sure sign that those in education cannot present well reasoned argumentation that can stand up to critical examination. All that seems left to these supposedly educated people is to shut others up. Some how they seemed to have gotten the idea that the amount of education determines the amount of intellect and wisdom that one has attained. Sadly when looking at their example one might wonder if these people are educating people who will have the ability and rigor to face the vagaries of life. It would also seem that education in this case has little to do with intellect. When one fears words and tries to control dialogue then one is not representative of the scholarship that should accompany a degree at the undergraduate, graduate and PhD level. Alan Bloom was correct and maybe not critical enough of those whose minds are fast closing to the realities and needs of life.

Sam L. said...

Thanks, Ares!