Last week, I noted an effort by two sociologists to explain the rise of what they call “victimhood culture.” They focused their paper on “a new species of social control that is increasingly common at American colleges: the publicizing of microaggressions.” The scores of emails I’ve received in response to the article include people on both sides of the larger debate on whether “microaggressions” are a sound or unsound framework. Its defenders often fail to realize how many of its critics share their desired ends, if not their preferred means.
Consider an 18-year-old whose great grandparents immigrated from Japan to the United States. She enrolls at a large state university where she is constantly surrounded by strangers. A few times a week, someone asks her, “What country are you from?” Each interaction on its own is a tiny annoyance that she is inclined to ignore. But the cumulative effect of these interactions add up to a significant burden. No one likes having to answer the same question over and over and over again. And there seems to be something objectionable in the substance of this particular question––an implicit assertion that people with Asian features, or the descendants of Asian immigrants, are somehow less American than their white counterparts, even the ones whose ancestors immigrated here in the same generation. “I’m from here every bit as much as you are,” she might think to herself, “but people prejudge me as if that isn’t so because I don’t have white skin or features.”