Letter to the Editor: Eradicating microaggressions will not eliminate racism

To the editor:

I appreciated George Leef’s article,  and the law journal article by Cantu and Jussim that it reviewed.

I recently learned, for example, that whites apparently have a higher threshold for recognizing racism than minorities. “The American Psychological Association found in a national survey that Whites experience less race-based discrimination than people of color. Less experience with racism results in less sensitivity to it.” Similarly, those experiencing more racism are prone to see more of it.

Subjective variations of this kind, of course, make it more difficult to discuss racism, especially at the micro-level.

And what about the macro-level? Racism at the macro-level presented itself every day I walked into my community college classroom twenty-years ago, where Blacks rarely enrolled even though they constituted more than ten-percent of the population. Racism is, sadly, an enduring problem for our beloved Country.

Equally problematic is the fact that eradicating racist micro-aggressions will not eliminate racism, nor does it claim to have that effect. In this case, there is a missing link between micro-level CMC/CRT activism and favorable macro-level outcomes. Without an actual bridge between them, reform at the micro-level fails, leaving nothing to remain but good intentions.

The problems described by Cantu and Jussim with empirical verification and scholarly validation stem from the same problem – the difficulty bridging the gap between racism at the personal level and macro-racism (“structural racism”). I find it ironic that reducing racism to the level of personal volition is a mistake that both microaggression champions and their critics make, repeatedly.

To complicate matters, the detection of racism isn’t simply a subjective determination that varies from individual to individual, but it is also a moral judgement, codified in laws and social norms over long periods of time. These determinations about discrimination extend centuries into the past, and will sadly, extend into the foreseeable future as well. Distinguishing ‘what is criminal’ from that which ‘lacks scienter’ is something that societies and cultures have struggled with for millennia, and continue to struggle with today.

Lists of micro-aggressions – at best – breach the taken-for-grantedness of the social world as did ‘consciousness raising’ sessions fifty-some-years ago. Micro-aggression training seeks to peel back the routines of life in a way that — just as it did fifty-years ago — can poison life and social interactions by burdening them with new demands.

The question to be raised is whether or not the invisibility of racism — as a social evil — justifies activism and consciousness raising, if only because all other attempts at eradication have failed. As Cantu and Jussim write, “So, importantly, we do not deny that microaggressions happen; the concept of ‘microaggressions’, at least generically, has some validity and describes a real phenomenon.”

The saddest thing, I think, is that microaggression training and Critical Race Theory advocates, as well as their opponents, sidestep the underlying issue, which is racism itself. I have no idea how to address America’s racism problem; even a complete mixing of the races runs the risk of merely redeploying discriminatory power relations, of creating new minorities that can then complain about discrimination, real or imagined.

Glen McGhee
Lynn Haven, Florida