Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Law of Unintended Consequences: Microaggression Training

Why not give everyone on campus the Implicit Association Test and kick out those who score in the bottom quartile? Oh yeah, because the IAT is more of a game than a test, in that scores on the IAT have rarely been shown to correlate to real-world racist behaviors. Which is why it can't be used to screen out racist police officer candidates, etc. (There is at least one study showing external validity, and it's really interesting.)

Jonathan Haidt & Lee Jussim, WSJ

"In the past few years, a new approach has gained attention and become a common demand of campus protesters: microaggression training. Microaggressions are defined as brief and commonplace daily indignities, whether intentional or not, that make people of color feel denigrated or insulted. The idea covers everything from asking someone where they are from to questioning the merits of affirmative action during a classroom discussion.
But microaggression training is likely to backfire and increase racial tensions. The term itself encourages moralistic responses to actions that are often unintentional and sometimes even well-meaning. Once something is labeled an act of aggression, it activates an oppressor-victim narrative, which calls out to members of the aggrieved group to rally around the victim. As the threshold for what counts as an offense falls ever lower, cross-racial interactions become more dangerous, and conflict increases.
Protesters also have demanded that microaggression training be coupled with anonymous reporting systems and “bias response teams.” Students are encouraged to report any instance when they witness or suffer a microaggression. It is the “see something, say something” mind-set, transferred from terrorism threats to conversational blunders and ambiguities.
But such systems make it far more important to keep track of everyone by race. How would your behavior change if anything you said could be misinterpreted, taken out of context and then reported—anonymously and with no verification—to a central authority with the power to punish you? Wouldn’t faculty and students of all races grow more anxious and guarded whenever students from other backgrounds were present?"
It other words, to paraphrase the authors of the article, in an environment in which everyone is hyper-alert for perceived microaggressions (and unforgiving/punitive regarding them), wouldn't it be safest for majority students and faculty to avoid interactions with minority students as much as possible? And since cross-group interactions are the best way to reduce inter-group conflict, isn't that self-defeating?

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