I ought to get out more and understand what’s going on in the world. I recently read an article by Alec Torres, a contributor to National Review. In the article, Torres describes microaggression, which is part of the trendy new and politically-malevolent phraseology on our college campuses.
Torres interviewed Dr. Derald Sue, who has been studying microaggression at Columbia University since 2007, and has written two books on the subject. Dr. Sue defines a microaggression as an “everyday slight, putdown, indignity, or invalidation unintentionally directed toward a marginalized group.” According to the article, the term was coined in the 1970s by Chester Pierce, an African-American psychiatrist at Harvard. Apparently, it’s making a comeback.
Whenever I start feeling uneasy about something purporting to be a fact, I head for the dictionary. I looked up micro and it says “a very tiny or small thing.” The definition of aggression has a lot of meanings, but in the context of today’s progressive assault on free speech, let’s call it an insult.
The first question that popped into my head was “Why are my tax dollars paying Dr. Sue to study very tiny insults for nine years, and to write two books about them?” Seems like a waste of my money. He should have called me. I could have explained this to him.
According to Dr. Sue, the person delivering the microaggression often does not know he’s doing it. This begs the question; how do we know it’s there? When Torres asked Dr. Sue to provide an instance of a borderline microaggression, Dr. Sue disagreed with the premise of the question. “…microaggressions represent a clash of…realities, and the question you’re raising is whose reality is the correct reality…”
Now, you just read that answer. Maybe you understood it. I don’t. To me, it sounds like somebody avoiding the question. That usually means somebody is trying to justify the tax money they’ve taken from me. Dr. Sue says we’re having a clash of realities, and the question is who’s got the right reality. That wasn’t the question. The question was “Can you give me an example?”
Torres states the obvious: microaggressions are vague. Finding and proving them are even more difficult. That makes them a convenient weapon– and harder to deny. It’s pretty difficult to prove the Invisible Man isn’t standing there. So now I’m paying Dr. Sue to study very tiny invisible insults that may not be there. I know a waste of my money when I can’t see one.
I have a message for the young people who are buying this load of crap: “Don’t. Buy. This load of crap. You won’t be able to live your life this way.”
When I was a kid, we said all kinds of things. Some of them weren’t nice. There’s no doubt they were hurtful to others. That’s because when we were children, we spoke as children. Part of growing up and becoming an adult is developing good judgment about what should come out of our mouths. (I can’t believe I’m explaining this, and I can’t believe it’s me explaining it.) Usually, our mothers grabbed us by the ear, pulled us into a corner and explained why we shouldn’t call somebody a name or say hurtful things. Most of us learned it. Some of us never will.
There was an old saying in those days. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I may have committed a microaggression by repeating it, but you’ll never be able to prove it. Now I don’t need a phone call from Dr. Sue to lecture me that, yes, words can be hurtful. You see, the “sticks and stones” thing was to be applied to the recipient of the insult, not the donor. The donor got his ear grabbed and was pulled to the corner. What it really meant was that one, we ought not to say hurtful things to anyone and two, it is a testament to one’s character to rise above hurtful language or comments and ignore them. What happened to this philosophy, and why is it out of style today?
The general thrust of “political correctness” is aptly named; it is political by its very nature and an outright assault upon free speech. When particular words, language, comments or ideas are outlawed or denied, we are, in fact, prohibiting our right to speak our minds, guaranteed us under the First Amendment. We must never do this, even if the other person’s words and ideas are demonstrably wrong, socially repugnant and personally painful. It was so eloquently stated long ago: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
It’s true that free speech goes only so far. You can’t shout fire in a crowded theater. But you can speak quietly and reasonably about a fire while seated in a crowded theater. The trick is to avoid starting a stampede to the exits. The trick here might be avoiding a stampede from the microagressions. Particularly since we’re not exactly sure what they are, or if we’ve committed one.
The truth is that there are stupid and insensitive people in the world, and there always will be. We cannot legislate them away. We can’t socially engineer them into oblivion. Like the proverbial bad penny, they keep coming back. Most of us recognize a bad penny. My parents taught me to ignore people like this. I don’t know what’s happened in the world since I learned that very valuable lesson. What I do know is that society used to say “you shouldn’t say that,” and now it has begun to say “you can’t say that.” And when we change that word, we assassinate our own right to say what we think. And since we’re both thinking right now, let’s think about that.
The truth about these theoretical microaggressions is that anytime, anywhere we meet a human being for the first time, we will cause opinions to be formed. They will be formed for a lot of reasons: the way we look, the way we talk, the way we hold our head, the color of our hair or skin or eyes or clothes, the opinions we hold, the tone of a certain word, and a thousand other things. It might depend on how much sleep the other person got. It could depend on the weather. And so, young people, there are generations of older and yes, wiser people who have some well-intended advice for you: Try to be kind to everyone. You will fail occasionally, but if you try, you will generally succeed. That’s as good as it gets.