Phi Beta Cons

Miss Manners, We Need You

I consider some microagressions.

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, recently made news after she told her faculty to attend a seminar that would discuss “microagressions.”

Other news crowded it out, but the list of 53 microgressions (hat tip to Katherine Timpf) is worth more attention. It’s adapted from a book by Derald Wing Sue.

Microaggressions are things said or done by “privileged” people that hurt people who aren’t so privileged. Thomas Sowell says that the Left labels microaggressions as a way “of silencing politically incorrect ideas instead of debating them.” Others laugh at them.

I’d like to view them as Miss Manners would.

Certainly, we can improve the way we address one another; for example, I have cringed at the use of the phrase, “Some of my best friends are Jews but….” That must be out of date since it’s not listed, but one of the 53 microaggressions is the patronizing phrase, “You are a credit to your race.” Let’s expunge that.

Most of the microaggressions are stretches. Some attribute ill motives. “While walking through the halls of the Chemistry building a professor approaches a post-doctoral student of color to ask if she/he is lost, making the assumption that the person is trying to break into one of the labs.” Really?

You should never say to an Asian person, “You must be good in math, can you help me with this problem?” I agree; you shouldn’t assume such a thing, but is this a “microaggression”? Another bad act is “continuing to mispronounce the names of students after students have corrected the person time and time again.” Yes, Miss Manners would say, but a microaggression?

If you say to a person of color “Are you sure you were being followed in the store? I can’t believe it,” you are “denying the personal experience of individuals who experience bias.”

If you show surprise when a feminine woman turns out to be a lesbian, you are degrading LGBT persons. (Hmm. What is “feminine”?)

People make gaffes. “Female doctor mistaken for a nurse” is one of those and “faculty of color mistaken for a service worker.” I presume that Miss Manners would say: Apologize.

And then, saying “You people…” is the equivalent of saying “You don’t belong. You are a lesser being.” Really?

Now here’s one: “Raising your voice or speaking slowly when addressing a blind student.” Okay, some people aren’t bright and they can make mistakes like that. It could be irritating, but a microaggression?

The phrases that caught the most attention a week or so ago were grouped under the “Myth of Meritocracy.” For example: “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” Supposedly, this suggests that “people of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race.” Yikes. Just listing this as a microaggression is patronizing.

And you shouldn’t say, “America is the land of opportunity.” It implies that “the playing field is even so if women cannot make it, the problem is with them.” Nor should you say, “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.” That suggests that “people of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder.” What? Even Miss Manners would draw the line, and also perhaps recommend phrasing the microaggressions with better grammar.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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