The Fragility of Our Dominant Culture

True story: someone I’m connected with on facebook just posted an article claiming that “radical leftists” were guilty of shutting down discourse by insisting on trigger warnings, safe spaces and calling out micro-aggressions. I responded that this was bullshit. None of those things actually shut down discourse. People disagreed. I stood my ground. So the person who claimed that “radical leftists” were shutting down discourse decided that the conversation was too heated and deleted it. I believe that the word for this is irony.

15135763_10208953533409178_5817473775491816140_nOne of the things which has become abundantly clear is that there are a lot of people on the right, but also among neo-liberals who are engaging in heavy duty projection. They are the ones who can’t handle vigorous discourse and shut down at criticism or pushback, so they accuse others of doing so, for example. I mean, you will never find a bigger whiny special snowflake than someone who complains about political correctness. All you have to do is say the word “racism”  or call out intolerance and they melt down, claiming that you’ve make discussions impossible. Meanwhile, let a black person be told that they are pulling the race card or want to be given something for nothing and that same person will expect them to remain calm and composed.

What’s really happening here is that people who have previously been marginalized and whose concerns were ignored are gaining a voice. And it’s an uncomfortable, unfamiliar, challenging voice for those who are ensconced in the majority culture to hear. The impulse is to get them to shut up. To mock and marginalize their attempts to be heard and exert some influence on public discourse in ways that address their own needs. I’m sure that many of the people doing this have no idea that they are actually the ones who are trying to shut down public discourse because they’ve never considered that public discourse which includes and is mindful of everyone will look and sound different than public discourse they are used to.

The other dynamic which I think we’re seeing is that as those who have previously been marginalized push back against things which are hurtful and harmful to them, it exposes the fact that the dominant culture has been callous, cruel and completely unfair to many people. No one wants to think of themselves as callous, cruel and unfair, of course. But instead of recognizing that they haven’t done the work required to ensure that they aren’t actually callous, cruel and unfair, a lot of people just retreat into denial and scapegoating. They blame the person who brings their inadequacies to light for making them feel bad and become hostile towards them.

The discussion surrounding things like trigger warnings, political correctness, safe spaces, microaggressions and the like is extremely frustrating. People who oppose and complain about these things consistently show by their own words that they lack any actual understanding of the subject of their ire. But the good thing is that people who have been marginalized, far from being fragile children and special snowflakes are quite accustomed to dealing with and persevering through hostility and opposition. Once the dominant culture figures out that they are capable of doing likewise and actually engage with the issue like grown-ups, reality will win.


4 thoughts on “The Fragility of Our Dominant Culture

  1. Mote and beam, to use an old-fashioned expression for cognitive bias. The demand to be protected from “micro-aggressions”, which I gather can include such things as asking someone of unusual accent or appearance where they come from, really is restriction on speech. Worse, it encourages a culture of victimhood,when what would be more appropriate is resilience (and yes, I know what it is to be told to “go back where I came from”). Finally, it adds substance to the claims that campus liberals faile to apply their own standards themselves, and are out of touch with and irrelevant to the traditional working-class, now fallen on hard times.

    But all of this is completely insignificant, compared with such activities as setting up a register of left-wing professors (yes this is happening; how do I qualify?), or threats of action against newspapers deemed biased by the incoming US regime, or today’s really frightening news; that regime asking the Energy Department for the names of employees involved in meetings on climate change


    • I get that microaggressions (which in my opinion are best off being ignored) can seem petty and like an imposition on the person being called out. However, if someone complains about being asked about their accent, consider that they may be fielding questions multiple times a day about their accent. And often by people who haven’t bothered to engage with them in any real way which leads to the perception that the question is meant to provide the asker with information they need to stereotype you. And that’s on top of whatever other forms of hostility the person has dealt with already that day.
      Which I think gets to the heart of what’s happening here; mostly its asking people to be more aware of the perceptions of those who are unlike themselves. We’re all programmed to deal with people from the dominant culture in ways that feel reasonably comfortable for people who operate comfortably within the dominant culture. We don’t have to think about it. It’s just automatic. However we are just now starting to include various minorities into the dominant culture which means that our awareness of what makes them comfortable or uncomfortable is lagging behind and it can feel like an imposition to have to actually be aware of it since it’s not automatic for the dominant culture just yet.

      But the other issue is that we have this presumption of innocence for people who are in the dominant culture which is sometimes unwarranted. So if someone complains about being asked about their accent, we assume it was an innocent question and the person who took offense is being overly sensitive. However, it’s also entirely possible that the question is asked in such a way that it’s hostile, meant to discredit or is intended to discredit the person. People can be nasty in really subtle ways. Like there’s a restaurant which my husband and I go to fairly often because it’s cheap and close to our house, but we always get really poor service. We mostly go so we can sit and talk with each other, so it doesn’t bother us much. But quite consistently we see tables which were seated after us served before we are, for example. This is almost certainly a microaggression. Everyone’s always very nice and pleasant to our faces, but we always have to ask for our check and wait to have our order taken. But if I say to someone that we experience microaggressions at this restaurant, odds are excellent that I will hear stories about white people getting poor service. I know that it’s more than that, but how can I explain it to someone who assumes that such things don’t really happen and I’m just being overly sensitive?
      At any rate, I am with you on the aggression of many portions of the right against the left these days. Completely un-American if nothing else.


      • I would not call the aggression you and your husband experience “Micro”, the way you cope with it is exemplary. And I still think that we are better off without the concept “micro-aggression”; what’s wrong with speaking of insensitivity, or rudeness?

        Alas, I cannot agree with you that current right-wing censorship is un-American. I am old enough to remember the House Un-American Activities Committee. But I can – must – agree with you that our pluralist tolerant culture is frighteningly fragile


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