The Macroaggression of Microaggressions

From the moment I heard of “microaggressions,” I knew we were looking at something colossally stupid.

If you’re unfamiliar with microaggressions, it’s basically something that may seem innocuous, but somehow represents some intrinsic racism. For example, asking someone’s ethnic origin can cross the line. So can so many other things.

However, questioning them is also forbidden. You’re not allowed to have an opinion if you’re white.

Apparently, even minority students can’t.

Kieran Bhattacharya is a student at the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine. On October 25, 2018, he attended a panel discussion on the subject of microaggressions. Dissatisfied with the definition of a microaggression offered by the presenter—Beverly Cowell Adams, an assistant dean—Bhattacharya raised his hand.

Within a few weeks, as a result of the fallout from Bhattacharya's question about microagressions, the administration had branded him a threat to the university and banned him from campus. He is now suing UVA for violating his First Amendment rights, and a judge recently ruled that his suit should proceed.

Here was what the student said.

"Thank you for your presentation," said Bhattacharya, according to an audio recording of the event. "I had a few questions, just to clarify your definition of microaggressions. Is it a requirement, to be a victim of microaggression, that you are a member of a marginalized group?"

Adams replied that it wasn't a requirement.

Bhattacharya suggested that this was contradictory, since a slide in her presentation had defined microaggressions as negative interactions with members of marginalized groups. Adams and Bhattacharya then clashed for a few minutes about how to define the term. It was a polite disagreement. Adams generally maintained that microaggression theory was a broad and important topic and that the slights caused real harm. Bhattacharya expressed a scientific skepticism that a microaggression could be distinguished from an unintentionally rude statement. His doubts were wellfounded given that microaggression theory is not a particularly rigorous concept.

But Sara Rasmussen, an assistant professor who helped to organize the event, thought Bhattacharya's questions were a bit too pointed. Immediately following the panel, she filed a "professionalism concern card"—a kind of record of a student's violations of university policy.

"This student asked a series of questions that were quite antagonistic toward the panel," wrote Rasmussen. "He pressed on and stated one faculty member was being contradictory. His level of frustration/anger seemed to escalate until another faculty member defused the situation by calling on another student for questions. I am shocked that a med student would show so little respect toward faculty members. It worries me how he will do on wards."

Now, let’s keep in mind that Bhattacharya isn’t a whiteboy name. It’s Indian (not Native American, either). As such, he’s in as good a position to discuss microaggressions as Adams (who is black).

The real problem, however, isn’t that Bhattacharya was antagonistic or anything of the sort. The problem is that he refused to simply roll over and accept that microaggressions could be anything other than microaggressions rather than just clueless utterings.

In other words, she simply couldn’t tolerate being questioned about her pet theory, one that as noted in the quoted piece is less than rigorously defined.

Of course, I could be less charitable. Bhattacharya is Asian. If I played by the left’s rules, I’d describe this as being motivated by anti-Asian racism. Many of those accused of carrying out hate crimes against Asians have been black, so this would fit that model quite well.

I’m not going to, though, because I can imagine any number of motivations for Adams to seek to destroy Bhattacharya’s life and livelihood.

Now, of course, Bhattacharya has filed a lawsuit, as Reason notes in the above-linked post.

I hope he wins.

Unfortunately, though, that’s not going to stop much of anything. This kind of nonsense is taking place on campuses all over the nation. It’s in places of business and in nonprofits as well. It’s almost everywhere.

Plus, it has the built-in mechanism of any questioning being taken as evidence of racism, which means there can’t be any critical discussion. That shields them from criticism, but it also helps prevent any refinement of arguments.

See, some of those comments that are defined as microaggressions may not be racist, but some might still be hurtful nonetheless. Being able to have a meaningful discussion about them might help people recognize the hurtful nature without feeling like they’re being labeled as the most hateful of people.

Then again, this kind of thing isn’t really about trying to resolve things. It’s really all about finding a new boot to put on people’s necks.