All humans have to put up with things other people say that are bothersome, but leave it to American academics to elevate that into a great social problem. About ten years ago, a few scholars began arguing that when members of certain minority groups (oddly enough, the same ones that colleges and universities always feel obliged to succor and protect) hear words or phrases from “dominant” people, they are wounded in ways only they can know. They came up with a name for this: micro-aggression. Ever since, college and university officials have been bending over backwards in efforts to stop the hurting.
A few daring scholars have taken issue with the micro-aggression mania, however, and I write about their criticisms in this Martin Center piece.
Althea Nagai of the Center for Equal Opportunity has penned a sharp critique of the pseudo-research behind it for Academic Questions, the quarterly journal of the National Association of Scholars. Her big point is that the micro-aggression researchers violate the rules of science in their techniques, such as the way they conduct focus groups: with leading questions meant to elicit answers that bolster their theory.
Scott Lilienfeld, professor of psychology at Emory, has also published an academic paper recently. In it he calls out the micro-aggression theorists for bad technique and inflated, unsupportable claims.
And what if the furor over micro-aggressions is counterproductive? Professors Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim have argued that it is: It further encourages a victim mindset among members of those protected groups, whose members are supposedly so mentally fragile that they must be sheltered from any words one of them might find offensive — “America is a land of opportunity,” for example.
College officials should back away from the micro-aggression mania and focus on actual education, but that would take some daring on their part. The social-justice warriors would undoubtedly attack them for their insensitivity and “privilege.” I’d bet that this silly movement continues to pick up momentum.