Microaggressions: If you don’t confess, you’re guilty


The more one reads stories about political correctness run amok on college campuses, the more one begins to see parallels with the old Soviet Union.

A recent story in the New York Times profiled campus efforts to, among other things, stamp out “microaggressions.”

Among tips offered by Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University in Massachusetts, is a prohibition on the term “you guys,” as it could be interpreted as leaving out women.

This, the Times reported, was an epiphany for Clark student Noelia Martinez, a Massachusetts resident who was born in Puerto Rico to Dominican parents.

Martinez “realized that she, too, was guilty of microaggressions, because she frequently uses the phrase ‘you guys,’ she said. ‘This helped me see that I’m a microaggressor, too.’”

How much further down the rabbit hole do we have to go before we end up at something akin to the Moscow Show Trials of the mid- to late-1930s, when senior Soviet officials publicly confessed to acts they had never committed, with the full understanding that they would be executed.

“I end as a traitor to my party, a traitor who must be shot,” former Soviet official Sergei Mrachkovsky confessed on Aug. 22, 1936, admitting that he played a role in the assassination of prominent Bolshevik Sergey Kirov in 1934 and had “organized a number of terrorist groups who made preparations to assassinate Comrades Stalin” and others.

In reality, it’s almost a certainty that Stalin himself ordered Kirov’s execution, and that the subsequent show trials and purges enabled Stalin to eliminate nearly the entire old Bolshevik guard, completing his consolidation of power.

Mrachkovsky and the hundreds of others who publicly confessed to all manner of crimes against the state had, in reality, done nothing of the sort. They were bullied into confessing, realizing they had no other choice.

While we’re still a long way from what ultimately took place in the Soviet Union, we seem all too happy to lurch along the path of philosophical myopia that shackles intellectual freedom.

The opening paragraph of the Times story begins with the following exchange between Marlowe and an unnamed freshman during a presentation at Clark:

“‘When I, as a white female,’ the freshman asks, ‘listen to music that uses the N word, and I’m in the car, or, especially when I’m with all white friends, is it O.K. to sing along?’

“The answer, from Sheree Marlowe … is an unequivocal ‘no.’”

This seems … odd. No question, the “N word” has a convoluted and troubling history. It’s a repellent word and one that normally shouldn’t be uttered at all except for academic or literary reasons.

But if it’s in a popular song, are all whites supposed to skip the word if they sing along? Who’s to say that they should even be allowed to listen to a song containing the word? Wouldn’t that be considered a “microaggression” to some?

If that seems like a reach, consider that diversity awareness is big business, and it’s growing. About 75 chief diversity officers have been hired by colleges and universities in the past 18 months, according to the Times.

Unfortunately, these are often individuals who would appear to have a vested interest in fostering a culture of victimization, in order to create job security. The more “microaggressions” that can be detailed, the more need for chief diversity officers, and bigger budgets.

Diversity has become a plum fiefdom that no one dares call out for fear of being labeled intolerant.

In reality, most college students, at least until recently, were able to negotiate relatively easily the differences that sometimes occur when happening upon individuals different from themselves. They didn’t need “safety spaces” or to be cautioned about “trigger warnings.”

Open bigotry was identified for what it was, while simply misunderstandings were usually hashed out through conversation or observation. It wasn’t perfect, and, yes, there were always a handful of jackasses around who hadn’t been reared properly.

But to hear diversity officers talk today, though, campuses are rife not only with rampant subtle cultural insensitivity, but overt racism.

There are no honest mistakes, of course, and all misdeeds must be confessed to and punished.

How long before the diversity police begin to demand Show Trials?


10 thoughts on “Microaggressions: If you don’t confess, you’re guilty

  1. How on earth do you think there is a comparison between sexism and racism at university and political show trials in the USSR?

    As far as I am aware, you are an educated middle class white man, so to speak because I don’t know America. But we both worked the same trade. And you don’t think words matter?

    I do not like being called a guy. I am not a guy. Simple as that. If it’s all inclusive, why don’t we have ‘Hey gals!’ Well?

    Using ‘Hey guys!’ is like using he as the default pronoun. It’s not acceptable. It’s not cool. And it is totally insulting to women.

    I think every single complaint in the NYT link was valid. Insulting, offensive, perjorative.

    My last post was about the increase in sexual assaults/rapes/DV against women. Now, why would sexual consent not be a reasonable topic for discussion for first year students at university? And freshmen? No. Women are not men.

    You have daughters. Don’t you want them to be safe from sexual attacks and have good careers in an equal workplace?

    • First, I don’t use “you guys” and I don’t know many adults who do when speaking to a mixed assembly. In the South, “Y’all” covers a group, so perhaps it’s easier. It appears to me to be making a mountain out of a molehill by claiming that “You guys” could be interpreted as “leaving out women.” Many things could be interpreted many different ways, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the case.

      We all live in a world where there’s plenty of insulting, offensive activity going on on a regular basis – deliberately insulting, offensive behavior. If someone enters a group and says “you guys” I would almost certainly think that no offense is meant. If a woman in the group feels left out, and it’s unintentional, does it do any good for her to focus on that, or should she understand it’s likely a figure of speech? If no one holds a door for a man, but he sees people holding a door for a woman, should he accept that it’s a courtesy usually extended to women, or should he feel excluded? Does it do him any good to feel excluded?

      Sexual consent, assault and domestic violence are different topics and, if anything, deserve complete clarity which is cluttered when many potential offenses are boiled down to male chauvinism, privilege and power. Sexual consent is indeed a reasonable topic for first-year college students; hypotheticals such as “how would a woman feel if she walked into a chemistry classroom and saw a wall full of pictures of scientists who are all white males (cited in the story) is a non-starter because any wall of scientists that leaves out the likes of Marie Cure and Lise Meitner isn’t much of wall.

      I want my daughters, along with all women and all men, to have the opportunity for good careers. Of course I want universities to be safe from sexual predators and those who perpetuate domestic violence, or, at a minimum, for women – and men – to have the tools to better deal with such individuals, but I also don’t want the free discussion of ideas to be stunted because policing diversity has become a cottage industry.

      Words do matter and some of the most illuminating revelations come from the most difficult discussions. But if people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, it inhibits discussion and understanding, rather than encouraging it.

  2. “This helped me to see that I’m a micro aggressor, too”, she said. She had won the victory over herself.
    She loved Big Brother.
    Oops. Is that too gender specific?

    • I really don’t understand this mentality. How can you be a “microaggressor” if no “aggression” was intended? Yes, you can put your foot in your mouth once in awhile, but aggression is such a loaded term. Methinks Big Brother will love her, too.

  3. Words do matter, but they go both ways. If someone feels insulted, it is incumbent on her/him/it to speak up for itself. How else will the insulter learn his/her/it’s speech is offensive? The insult may not be intentional. Language is a two-way street. To have third party “diversity police” intervene is an insult to both parties, as though they don’t have the courage or maturity to handle the presumed offense without outside help.

    • I understand there are always a few louts who try to bully their way around, whether with words or deeds, but most people, it’s been my experience, don’t want to make others uncomfortable. And, yes, if the person who is uncomfortable doesn’t learn to speak up, they’ll miss out on a valuable skill.

      The entire diversity affairs department presupposes that college students are unable or unwilling to work simple matters out among themselves.

  4. It is probably my age speaking but it occurs to me that if these students suffer constant psychological and intellectual trauma over microaggressions at university, they need not plan on working. Also, it appears to me that as the cost of post secondary education goes up, academic rigor decreases in direct proportion. Does no-one need to study for chemistry, math, German, Brit Lit? In the example of a female student objecting to someone using a group greeting of “you guys,” I’m inclined to think she has too much time on her hands along and perhaps another problem or two.

    O.K., now that I think about it, it is my age and work experience coloring my opinion and reaction. I think had I, or anyone else, demanded special respect and consideration because it was personally desirable, ridicule and contempt would have been the response. One earns respect and consideration by at least respectable performance and finds that respect and consideration generally increase with high level performance. (I am soon to be 70. At an early age I was often the only female member of a clinical work team. It wasn’t always smooth sailing but complaining was not the way to go.)

  5. I can’t believe the sort of things that people lose their minds over lately. Our culture and world is so easy, time saving, gentle, and effeminate, often, that we don’t have the ability to cope with small problems or we even make problems up out of thin air in order to cause conflict and have something to talk about. I personally would rather live in a society with free speech and occasional conflict than one with everyone sedated into being agreeable and not differing in opinion or offending anyone else. “A clockwork orange” is a good introduction to such themes.

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