Microaggressions Can’t Kill Us, But They Can Divide Us

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Recently, the ACLU and Hermanos Unidos, a student organization, hosted an event on UC Berkeley’s campus titled “Free Speech and Racial Micro Aggressions.” The event featured PhD Daniel Solorzano, a professor at UCLA who studies the effects of microaggressions on minority communities.

The event focused on discussing what constitutes a microaggression, and what makes them, allegedly, so violent. Solorzano argues microaggressions are tools “rooted in white supremacy” used to “keep those at the racial margins systemically in their place.”

If you think that’s scary, just wait until you see Solorzano’s diagnosis of the impact of these  “microaggressions.”

“Racial microaggressions are one way that white supremacy manifests itself for People of Color in the everyday.” Solorzano argues, “The ‘micro’ in microaggressions does not mean ‘less than’ [macroaggressions]. The micro in microaggressions means ‘in the everyday'” [emphasis his]. Such statements should be perceived as “assaults directed at people of color” based on the “academic, psychological, and sociological toll on those targeted. The accumulative stress from racial microaggressions produces racial battle fatigue, the stress of unavoidable front-line racial battles in historically white spaces leave People of Color feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. The stress from racial microaggressions can become lethal when the accumulation of racial psychological symptoms from racial battle fatigue goes untreated or are dismissed completely.”

At this point, you may be wondering what are microaggressions and, if they are so lethal, why aren’t we putting a stop to it? Don’t fret, I’ve sat through multiple diversity and inclusion trainings during my first two years at UC Berkeley, so I know my microaggressions!

Microaggressions are “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.”

Here are some examples, according to the UC system:

“Where are you from or where were you born?”

“What are you? You’re so interesting looking!”

“America is a melting pot.”

 

Here are some listed microaggressions under the “Myth of Meritocracy” section of the UC handout:

“Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”

“America is the land of opportunity.”

“Men and women have equal opportunities for achievement.”

“Gender plays no part in who we hire.”

 

Other examples not on this list include:

“How long have you been an American?”

“Why does your hair feel different than mine?”

 

The way we analyze microaggressions has gone awry because academia has included “unintentional and unconscious” statements. In other words, microaggressions are racially focused faux paus that Solorzano wrongly construes with other acts of racism. This destroys a teachable moment.

What if Solorzano instead recognized the naivety of these faux paus, rather than focusing on their non-existent nefariousness? Supportive correction makes effective societal change. Condemnation does not.

Sadly, our college campuses have gone down the rabbit hole. Solorzano and other academics of the modern left are willing to disseminate the absurd idea that saying, “America is the land of opportunity” is equivalent to being mugged.

Johnathan Haidt, social psychologist at NYU, opposes this vehemently. He defines microaggressions as “small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent, but are thought of as violence nonetheless.” If microaggressions are designed to keep racial minorities at the periphery, as Solorzano says, that reveals there is a malevolent impetus driving these statements, which disqualifies them from being considered microaggressions altogether.  

Regardless, the asinine thought that minor instances drive “racial battle fatigue” fatalities, or can literally kill people, is totally out of touch with reality. Since the oxygen I breathe when I am speaking doesn’t deprive the person next to me of air, and there is absolutely no evidence that microaggressions cause disease, I assume Solorzano would measure the “deaths,” caused by ubiquitous microaggression racism in suicides. Only one problem:  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that, in 2016, blacks had the lowest suicide rate of any racial demographic, just below Asian/Pacific Islanders and significantly lower than American Indians and whites; Hispanics are considered separately.

When asked what he believes we can do to prevent the alleged damages of microaggressions, Solorzano respectably says, “I am not calling for censorship. I’m saying that we Need to Acknowledge and Disrupt the Discourses of Racial Microaggressions in the Everyday,” [capitalization and emphasis his]. I do believe Solorzano is an intelligent individual, and the fact he does not support censorship of such statements shows he also understands the legalities of Free Speech.

For speech to be declared impermissible, it has to be targeted harassment, a genuine threat, or fighting words using the reasonable person standard. The limitless subjectivity and nature of microaggressions is precisely what makes them uncensorable and protected by the First Amendment.

Are groups that truly believe these statements are not micro, but macroaggressions, willing to advocate for segregation by intersectional identity on what constitutes a reasonable person under law? These leftists are too wrapped up in intersectional politics to recognize their own ignorance. If the left believes power hierarchies like white supremacy, racism, sexism, and bigotry are inescapable in American society, then why do they want to grant more power to our Government, an institution where minorities are underrepresented? The result of such policies would most likely have the opposite of the desired effect. Furthermore, to insist members of minority groups are so intellectually fragile that they need to have their own definition of “reasonableness” is shockingly condescending.

Solorzano’s observations have lead him to start researching “counter space” culture and “racial microaffirmations.”  Racial micro-affirmations are small actions based in shared cultural intimacy. There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying community with those who share common cultural descent, whether its it through micro-affirmations or celebrating sacred cultural traditions.

That being said, if the only driver behind micro-affirmations is the conviction that people of the predominant race around you are enemies and intend to inflict harm, our society will be left more divided. This can be counterintuitive to the goals of a multicultural society because these affirmations will only serve the purpose of creating a stronger in-group that shuts itself off to individuals of other cultural backgrounds.

America is based on shared values and laws. The American Dream does not discriminate. It can only be comprehended and achieved by those who are willing to commit to our motto: E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one.


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About Bradley Devlin

University of California, Berkeley

Bradley Devlin is a student at the University of California Berkeley studying Political Economics and serves as the President of the Berkeley College Republicans.

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