Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Downside of Racial Hypersensitivity

I don’t agree with Keli Goff that social media are to blame, but I do agree wholeheartedly with her more important observation. The current hysteria about saying or thinking the wrong thing about people of color is hurting those it is supposed to be helping.

The dyspeptic students who are threatening their teachers and administrators are doing harm to the cause of integration.

As an African-American woman who works as a political pundit but who also works in Hollywood writers’ rooms, Goff is well placed to expose the real consequences of this mania. Being an angry black person might cause your college administrator to cave in to your demands, but it will also make it far more difficult for you to get a job and will make it nearly impossible for you to rise you the corporate ranks. Threatening gestures are not merely insolent; they exact a reputational price. Not just for you, but for anyone who looks like you.

Goff states it well:

I know there are rooms of opportunity and power—including some writers rooms—that people like me are increasingly excluded from simply because the people in them are petrified of saying the wrong thing in front of me or another person of color or another woman and ending up vilified in social media or on a blog or in a protest. So instead they surround themselves with fellow white guys. I know this in part because in the last two weeks I have had at least two white people I know say that family members or friends have made comments to that effect, i.e. “I really like my black co-worker but I’m nervous about dinner because what if things turn to politics and I say the wrong thing.”

With any person of color a potential agent of the thought police, prudence dictates that meetings and even dinner parties by segregated.

Competence is one thing. Comfort level is quite another. Goff points out studies suggesting that people will not socialize or work with others if those others threaten them or pose a potential threat. It is simply not worth the risk.

Following the logic of Goff’s argument the student protesters on college campuses are doing damage to race relations in America. Even though she manages to pay lip service to their youthful idealism, Goff identifies the downside of racial hypersensitivity:

I think the students at the University of Missouri are to be commended for challenging a culture in which racial slurs had become viewed as permissible. But if the message becomes that we are so sensitive that we are unable to have rational conversations with those who may be well-intentioned but wrong (see Yale’s Halloween kerfuffle or the Dartmouth library siege), the conclusion will be that disenfranchised people of color are no longer worth including in any conversation that matters.


Sam L. said...

Said racial slurs at Missouri were not by an identified person or persons, and so are hearsay. To the best of my knowledge.

Sam L. said...

In Goff's case, one must take time to get to know a person, be comfortable with them, and establish trust between the two. If either is hypersensitive, expressed as "spring-loaded to the pissed-off position",there is no chance of becoming comfortable or developing trust.