Systemic Inequality and Hurt Feelings

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.

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2 thoughts on “Systemic Inequality and Hurt Feelings

  1. I really appreciate the comment brought to light in this post regarding minorities’ “fragile psyches.” Many people make the argument about “hurt feelings” when it comes to racism and I absolutely agree with your take on the conversation. While racism does often result in hurt feelings, this is not the issue at the forefront of the discussion. The issue isn’t at large a young minority citizen who goes home at night and cries because of a negative attitude that someone demonstrated toward them, but rather, the embedded negativities, poor assumptions, and mean attitudes that exist in our country, perpetuating the racism that lives and breathes today. The issue isn’t about sensitivity nor is it about an over reaction; it is a response to an issue that has existed far too long and is engrained in our society’s culture, affecting not only feelings but opportunities for those victimized. Our country is supposed to be one that works to improve itself constantly to make a better life for its citizens. The racism that exists so prevalently today takes away from so many and thus needs to be continually addressed until progress is made. We are not here to cater to feelings, but to provide a safe and equal environment for all American citizens regardless of race, and this equality doesn’t exist wholly today.

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  2. My problem with this situation is largely due to the demands, and less about the overall grievances being expressed. I’m not quite sure what students expect universities –especially public universities– to do about off-campus situations where hateful or racist speech occurs. Call me a pessimist, but I think if a student shows up to college feeling like he can publicly call a minority a racial epithet, diversity initiatives will do little to change this behavior. My biggest issue comes from tenure demands however. I understand that an overwhelmingly white faculty can alienate non-white students, but I cannot support demands for affirmative action in the hiring process –especially when the tenure process is already under so much scrutiny. I have seen demands from Black Lives Matter movements to increase the percentage of black tenured professors 5% over the next 5 years and 10% after that. I do not understand how a movement rooted in equality can sacrifice neutral hiring processes for hiring processes that create diversity quotas. Students deserve the most qualified professors–not professors that meet an artificial racial demand. How is this demand fair to students of Asian backgrounds or students of other ethnic backgrounds? I support the idea of helping marginalized feel comfortable at institutions of higher learning, but I don’t think entertaining lists of demands is the way to fix this problem.

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