Over the last few years we’ve seen some seismic changes in our nation, and it’s tough to know where it began. We used to be a society with an attitude of “live and let live” and “agree to disagree” toward our differences, even when it comes to the most fundamental of disagreements. But these days, I can’t help but wonder: why have Americans become so sensitive?
In 21st century America, we suffer a sort of tyranny of the offended, having to walk on eggshells everywhere we go. Our speech isn’t even free these days. As Ann Coulter so astutely pointed out a few years ago:
Liberals are obsessed with language and controlling the words people use. If they can control our words, they can control us. They simultaneously promote as many languages as possible in American — other than English — and frantically censor words and speakers. Soon the only words we’ll be allowed to use are: “I’m offended.” (“Estoy offendido.”)
Everyone must tiptoe around in order to avoid setting off the alarms of the offended. And there’s no statute of limitations on past offenses either — even if there’s no concrete action to back up the offending words. Say something that offends someone else in public, or admit that you said it in the past, and you’re just as bad as someone who tortures puppies or knocks grocery bags out of the hands of old ladies.
Remember the controversy surrounding celebrity chef Paula Deen a couple of years ago? She admitted to using the N-word (the only word it seems is off limits these days) in one instance about 30 years prior, and the media treated her like she had burned a whole field of crosses. Some of her sponsors dropped her like a pariah, and the Food Network canned her like a bumper crop of veggies from the garden. Deen had the last laugh, of course, picking up new sponsors and launching lucrative new ventures. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not justifying using racial epithets, but uttering one years ago in the depths of anger (in Deen’s case, she was describing a bank robber who pointed a gun at her head) does not make one a racist now.
And now we have to worry about microaggressions. Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as
…the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.
It’s not enough that we have to watch every little thing we say in public and private, we now have to tailor every single mannerism to avoid offending the sensitive. According to Dr. Wing Sue, if a person notices a woman clutching her purse tighter as she walks by, he or she has every right to be offended, because that’s a microaggression. Don’t speak too loudly to a blind person, because that might be seen as you assuming that he or she is disabled in other ways, too. And on and on it goes. Even the most innocent of actions can come across as offensive to someone else, and Lord knows we can’t have that.