One of the latest things in universities, including at University of California (where I teach) is condemning “microaggressions,” supposed “brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating messages to the recipient because of his or her group membership (such as race, gender, age or socio-economic status).” Such microaggressions, the argument goes, can lead to a “hostile learning environment,” which UC — and the federal government — views as legally actionable. This is stuff you could get disciplined or fired for, especially if you aren’t a tenured faculty member.
But of course this concept is now being used to suppress not just, say, personal insults or discrimination in hiring or grading, but also ideas that the UC wants to exclude from university classrooms. Here, from the UC Office of the President, Academic and Personnel Programs department’s site (promoted, for instance, here, here, and here), are some of what the UC wants to see stamped out, in classrooms and presumably elsewhere as well:
Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send
Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (from Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014). The first step in addressing microaggressions is to recognize when a microaggression has occurred and what message it may be sending. The context of the relationship and situation is critical. Below are common themes to which microaggressions attach….
[Theme:] Color Blindness[:] Statements that indicate that a White person does not want to or need to acknowledge race.
[Microaggression Examples:] “There is only one race, the human race.”
“America is a melting pot.”
“I don’t believe in race.” …
[Theme:] Denial of Individual Racism/Sexism/Heterosexism[:] A statement made when bias is denied….
[Microaggression Examples:] … To a person of color: “Are you sure you were being followed in the store? I can’t believe it.” …
[Theme:] Myth of Meritocracy[:] Statements which assert that race or gender does not play a role in
life successes, for example in issues like faculty demographics.
[Microaggression Examples:] “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
“Of course he’ll get tenure, even though he hasn’t published much — he’s Black!”
“Men and women have equal opportunities for achievement.”
“Gender plays no part in who we hire.”
“America is the land of opportunity.”
“Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”
“Affirmative action is racist.”