From the Mailbag: Microaggressed about “Merit” Apartheid
Well, I am back from AERA. Had the great pleasure of hanging out with Kennet Santana, my freshman college roommate at the University of Michigan. He is an ELD teacher in the Bay Area (check out his classroom yearbook here on Youtube), and a hero of a school tragedy they never became one because of his bravery. Speaking of AERA, the last time AERA was in San Francisco, Kennet and I attend a session by Dr. Walter Allen on microaggressions. What is a microagression? Wikipedia:
Microaggression is the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as mostly non-physical aggression coined by Chester M. Pierce in 1970. Micro-inequities and micro-affirmations were additionally named by Dr. Mary Rowe of MIT in 1973, in her work she also describes micro-aggressions inclusive of sex and gender. Sue et al. (2007) describe microaggressions as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
Microagression usually involves demeaning implications and other subtle insults against minorities, and may be perpetrated against those due to gender, sexual orientation, and ability status. According to Pierce, “the chief vehicle for proracist behaviors are microaggressions. These are subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put-downs’ of blacks by offenders.”
A few readers have emailed and asked the origin of the quote in the Cloaking Inequity masthead. It currently says “Home of an accused ‘intellectually unrigorous pseudo-scholar.'” I was recently contact by Scott Ullman, reader on the formerly Stanford School of Education LinkedIn page. Here is what he said to me:
Scott Ullman • @Julian, when you use extreme language like “Apartheid” to describe a complex situation like this, you just discredit yourself and make yourself look like an intellectually unrigorous pseudo-scholar. You are right, though: this is a civil rights issue. But, the *real* solutions are school choice to break the union monopoly on K-12 education, changes in our culture that promote the development of cultural capital, and changes in our immigration policy that favor immigrants with higher cultural capital.
You’re already the #1 hit on Google for “intellectually unrigorous pseudo-scholar”. Congratulations, I think…
On that subject, you seem to have ignored the words “look like”, which refers to perception. Ask some of your more senior colleagues what they think of someone using inflammatory language like “Apartheid”, and about the general snide and disrespectful tone of your website. Even better, go ask someone who lived through the *actual* Apartheid in South Africa what they think.
Also, find some of your emeritus colleagues who spent decades doing academically serious work in dignified obscurity, and ask them what they think of a junior faculty member showing a picture of himself with a microphone being held to his face by a news reporter. You seem obsessed with being perceived as “important” and “influential.”
I was left to ponder the venom that Scott used in his posting about the post “Merit” Apartheid: Forces Determined to Segregate Higher Education?, Cloaking Inequity, and myself. I kept coming back to microaggressions. More from Wikipedia:
The concept of racial microaggressions is one of the relative new contributions of Social Psychology to the understanding of factors that influence intergroup relations. Commonplace, public experiences or situations such as being stopped for a check-up at an airport, being ignored by a waiter/waitress at a restaurant or being assigned to a particular task by an employer, might seem irrelevant or innocuous situations under most circumstances. However, when such situations are interpreted as being linked to racial differences, they become distinct, and take on a different connotation. As a result, people subjected to them (racial minorities) may experience emotional pain or other negative feelings.
Supporters of the theory argue that racial microaggressions are reported to be common, including among people who think of themselves as being fair and nonracist.
According to P.C. Davis (1989), microaggression is enabled because “cognitive habit, history, and culture [has left it] unable to hear the range of relevant voices and grapple with what reasonably might be said in the voice of discrimination’s victims.”
There are of course more mild microaggressions than those levied by Scott Ullman. There are also those that young faculty of color experience often. Most people don’t know this but I am regularly mistaken as a graduate student, sometimes even a undergrad at professional conferences. I never take this personally, I get it. People rarely experience people that look like me as a tenured professor (not “junior faculty”). I had an extensive dinner discussion at AERA with several faculty of color and they also regularly experience the same type of mild microagressions even within the academy. I usually divert the conversation by saying that I am flattered that someone thinks I am a decade or two younger (and less experienced) than I am.
Back to Scott Ullman. At the core of my being, I do what I do everyday because I hope that the counter-narratives that we discuss here on Cloaking Inequity will impact equity and the educational opportunities of children. Thank you for joining me each week in this endeavor. Also, Scott, thanks for reading.
Edit 5/22/13: Scott, regarding your comment: “changes in our immigration policy that favor immigrants with higher cultural capital.” I think Heritage Foundation might be hiring a policy analyst on immigration.
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