But a flawed approach leaves students less culturally competent than when they began. Consider a widely circulated educational sheet, derived from an academic text, that seems to have originated in the UC system before being circulated at UC Santa Cruz, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, the court system of Philadelphia, and beyond. It lists what it calls examples of “racial microaggressions” that “communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons.”
The following statements are included:
- “You speak good English.”
- “When I look at you I don’t see color.”
- “America is a melting pot.”
- “America is the land of opportunity.”
- “Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.”
The UCLA professor Eugene Volokh once criticized this microaggressions sheet for going beyond “evenhandedly trying to prevent insult” to actively stigmatizing contested viewpoints, an inappropriate measure for administrators at a public university. I shared that objection at the time, but recently came upon another as powerful.
The Cato/YouGov survey on free speech and tolerance that I reported on last week included questions about whether folks find the same sentiments expressed above offensive.
Among the results?
Telling a recent immigrant, “you speak good English” was deemed “not offensive” by 77 percent of Latinos; saying “I don’t notice people’s race” was deemed “not offensive” by 71 percent of African Americans and 80 percent of Latinos; saying “America is a melting pot” was deemed not offensive by 77 percent of African Americans and 70 percent of Latinos; saying “America is the land of opportunity” was deemed “not offensive” by 93 percent of African Americans and 89 percent of Latinos; and saying “everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough” was deemed “not offensive” by 89 percent of Latinos and 77 percent of African Americans.
Public-opinion data cannot tell us whether a given statement is wrongheaded; and if campus progressives want to marshal substantive reasons for why any of the above statements should be eschewed, they ought to be free to articulate those arguments, and should receive a fair hearing by people who engage them on the merits. At times, I’m sure I’d agree with their analysis rather than the culture at large. I’m persuaded, for example, that “unauthorized immigrant” is the best locution.
But the literature was not circulated as the perspective of campus progressives on what should not be said; it was circulated as if it represented what offends and demeans people of color, even though huge majorities of African Americans and Latinos say, when actually consulted, that those very same statements are “not offensive.” (I have not yet found comparable survey data on the opinions of Asian Americans.)