By Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning via chronicle.com   Article

Microaggression and Changing Moral Cultures

“These days, if you have spent much time on a college campus, you have probably heard of microaggressions. The term dates to the 1970s, but only in recent years has it become prominent among campus activists and others on the political left. Microaggressions are remarks perceived assexist, racist, or otherwise offensive to a marginalized social group. Those popularizing the concept say that even though the offenses are minor as unintentional, repeatedly experiencing them causes members of minority groups great harm, which must be redressed.

… people have complained about, for example, a non-Hispanic person using the word futbol, a mother asking her daughter if she’d met any nice boys at college, someone telling a woman in her 30s that she looks too young to be a professor, and someone asking the white mother of a black daughter if the child is hers.

… The University ofCalifornia system has issued guidelines for faculty members warning that statements such as ‘America is a melting pot’ or ‘I believe the most qualified person should get the job’  could be microaggressions.

In response to that document, the UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh wrote, “Well, I’m happy to say that I’m just going to keep on microaggressing.’ Clearly not everyone is on board with these kinds of policies.

We can better understand complaints about microaggression and there actions to them if we understand that each side of the debate draws from a different moral culture. Those calling attention to microaggressions have rejected the morality dominant among middle-class Americans during the 20th century — what sociologists and historians have sometimes called a dignity culture, which abhors private vengeance and encourages people to go to the police or use the courts when they are seriously harmed. Less serious offenses might be ignored, and certainly any merely verbal offense should be. Parents thus teach their children to say, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but word scan never hurt me.’

Microaggression complaints make clear that this is no longer settled morality. Those who see microaggressions as a serious problem and who bring up minor and unintentional slights reject the idea that words can’t hurt, that slights should be brushed off, that even overt insults should be ignored. This attitude reveals the emergence of a new moral culture, one we call victimhood culture, since it valorizes victimhood.”


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