I consider myself a liberal person, an activist and supporter of shaping a more tolerant and equal society. I believe it is important to be cognizant of your actions/words and how they affect others, whether they are about race or culture or gender or personal traumas. In other words, being politically correct is important to progression in society….. but to a certain extent. Today, a PC culture is rapidly growing and becoming almost a joke; god forbid Target has “boy” and “girl” labels for things and puts blue wallpaper (how stereotypical of them!) behind the “boy’s” toy sections- oh wait, I mean gender neutral toy sections (yes target really did have to make those changes based off of customer complaints) . I get it, raising awareness for social symbols is important (the confederate flag for example- it’s the swastika of the south), but wallpaper color in relation to a gender type? Really? How about focusing on the bigger issues at hand.
And this PC and sensitivity extremity is especially popular in my age group- college kids/Millennials. I read an article recently in The Atlantic that talked about the recent trend of the coddling of American college kids, and it inspired me to write this post (I had been getting increasingly annoyed with this whole PC thing and the article was the final push). Phrases such as ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘microagressions’ have come into the spotlight, and students are pressing for more regulations on what can be said and done on a college campus. Trigger warnings are warnings that professors should give if content will be in any way emotionally difficult for students. Alright, so that was all fine and dandy back in elementary school, when you had to get permission to watch a certain movie or read a certain book. Students are still kids at that time and there is some coddling allowed there. But when you reach college, you are an adult, you chose to come to an institution which is there to challenge you academically and give you the freedom to explore new ideas. Many classic books like The Great Gatsby and Uncle Tom’s Cabin have been issued trigger warnings at some schools because of racial conflict or misogyny and abuse; students are then able to opt out of reading them for their classes.
Microagresssions are words/actions that seem benign but are thought to actually be violent or offensive. Okay, so there are many popular phrases that are rather politically incorrect and offensive, such as saying all Asians are Chinese or calling a guy gay because he dresses nicely or talks a certain way. But now, on certain campuses, asking a person with an ethnic background where they’re from can be considered a microagression because you are implying they weren’t born here. I think that’s crazy. I think it’s crazy that someone could actually be reported to the school for a question like that. An example even crazier, is one from the article- ” In April, at Brandeis University, the Asian American student association sought to raise awareness of microaggressions against Asians through an installation on the steps of an academic hall. The installation gave examples of microaggressions such as ‘Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?’ and ‘I’m colorblind! I don’t see race.’ But a backlash arose among other Asian American students, who felt that the display itself was a microaggression. The association removed the installation, and its president wrote an e-mail to the entire student body apologizing to anyone who was ‘triggered or hurt by the content of the microaggressions’.” (Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt- The Coddling of the American Mind) What the hell is going on. Asian students make a project WITH ACTUAL microagressions to spread a message of awareness, and other Asian students are calling THAT a microagression. How is that highly offensive to the Asian culture when it was the ASIAN AMERICAN association who installed it?
This is a movement that is focused on the emotional well-being of the collegiate mind, pushing to create safe spaces in the college environment which shield students from uncomfortable or controversial words/actions. A common mission statement among educators is teach kids how to learn, not what to learn, but this new way of protective teaching at the college level does not prepare students for life outside the collegiate environment, in the “real world.” Not everything is going to be tailored to fit a person’s needs or wishes. Not everyone is going to walk on eggshells around tough subjects or think twice before asking something as mundane as ‘where are you from.’ It is hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my own generation, my own age group, is supportive of stifling debate and free expression in schools. Kids my age in the 60s and 70s pushed for freedom of speech and rebellion against the controlling regulations of “The Establishment.” Sure, it’s not the 60’s anymore, but why do we want to deconstruct the foundation of free speech and diversity of opinions in the collegiate setting.
And of course it is not entirely college students at the helm of this movement, but universities are also being pressured by the federal government to enact stricter regulations. In 2013, the definition of harassment was broadened by the Departments of Justice and Education to include any verbal behavior that is ‘unwelcome’.’ Because universities are increasingly worried about federal investigations, many have started to apply this standard to more than just the sexual aspect- culture, race, religion, etc. “Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim. Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.”(Lukianoff, Haidt)
“In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. ‘I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,’ the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses. Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the hypersensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.” (Lukianoff, Haidt) These Millennial “Social Justice Warriors” (the term they have apparently given themselves) are misguided in their efforts. We need to focus on bringing social equality and justice to the table, but not in this way; not by trying to censor every action or phrase, based purely on emotion and opinion. We need to have honest and candid discussions focusing on the actual roots of social problems, not skirting around the edges of them, blind by our own morality and self righteousness.