Why This Anti-Racist Liberal Disagrees With Microaggression Theory
Today, I'm going to talk about some comments Emma Watson recently made, in an interview she had with feminist academic Valerie Hudson, published in Teen Vogue.
Anyway, there are some very concerning quotes from Ms Watson, who is often considered a role model for young women. Let's start with this one: "I love the word microaggression. I’ve been doing therapy for years and think it’s the best thing ever, and we talk about telling the microscopic truth." I personally don't know what the 'microscopic truth' is, but I certainly don't love the word microaggression. I think it's one of the most problematic words popularized in the last ten years. According to Wikipedia, "microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups". As you can see, the perception of microaggression is necessarily subjective, because it's rooted in perceived linguistic slights, and it counts even when unintentional.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for ending racism, sexism and homophobia. However, I have very genuine concerns that the microaggression concept has a chilling effect on free speech, and it also encourages victim mentality in minorities, which isn't good for them. In life, the expectation of success is half of actually succeeding. Therefore, encouraging minorities to adopt a victim mentality severely curtails their prospect of doing well in life. As I always say, encouraging minorities to adopt a victim mentality is the most effective way of oppressing them. It's really not cool!
Microaggression is also a concept commonly embraced as part of a wider worldview of postmodern radical subjectivity, where reality is constructed by language, and a lack of objectivity is accepted or even celebrated. In the rest of the interview we see some evidence that Ms Watson is buying into this worldview. Here are some more quotes:
"the law is language at the end of the day and it can always be interpreted in different ways, so you need someone that has the right intention to apply it in the right way";
"it's fascinating to me that the origin story of marriage centers around ownership and power"; and finally,
"if we give Earth a male pronoun, maybe we’ll stop pillaging and destroying and killing it".
This worldview is exactly what gave us the post-truth era, where people essentially live in their own version of reality. One of the reasons for our polarized political landscape is that people on either side are reacting to a different reality, because they receive news that is neither objective nor balanced. People also lack shared values, because even once-sacred institutions like marriage and family have come under criticism. Even scientific topics like climate change take on culture war characteristics, which prevent effective consensus and action. I don't think this is progressive at all, if anything, it's regressive. Real progress comes from people finding common ground, talking over their differences, and coming up with solutions. That's what's good for humanity, that's what humanity needs right now. If we declare reality to be subjective and allow people to live their own so-called 'truth', there will be no common ground on which we can reach out to meet people who think differently than us. I think that's the core pathology of our cultural landscape today, and it's something that we should all walk away from.