University campuses across the country are undergoing movements towards addressing systemic racial inequalities as minority students and allies have become increasingly fed up with a lack of administration accountability and action. In writing about these social grievances, Los Angeles Times contributor Jonathan Zimmerman notes that the discussion should center around empirically measured inequalities, and steer clear of an emotive argument.
“Equally troubling is the much-heard argument that everyone on campus should “validate” minorities’ experience and yield to their demands, lest we harm fragile psyches even further.”
While the point that we would do best to stay away from claims of “hurt feelings” is well-taken, I think Zimmerman misunderstands the character of argument on university campuses. Movements towards equality, while perhaps best motivated by psychological torment, are supported and demonstrated to be a necessity by addressing concrete systemic inequalities. There is overwhelming evidence for the systemic inequality touted by college demonstrators across the country, and to belittle their very real arguments to oversensitivity is to oversimplify the complaints.
Furthermore, the intersection of psychology and racism is not just about feelings. Microaggressions are not about being sad, but about language and action and culture affecting the minds and ideas of our country. Words are powerful, and should not be policed, but should be questioned and criticized at every available moment.
The “validation” of very real experiences (and feelings too) is an important first step towards recognizing how we can change our minds and our ideas through the acknowledgment of existing social inequalities we have been loathe to accept.
Students are not upset about the harm to their fragile psyches, but the racism encoded in our education system that causes such harm. They are undeniably tied to each other, and we shouldn’t dismiss the argument because we can’t measure someone’s feelings.