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Scholars begin to show skepticism regarding ‘microaggressions’

Academics are beginning to fight back against the notion of “microaggressions,” those words and phrases which “injure” members of minority groups in ways white people can’t grasp.

The term “microaggression” actually has been around for almost 50 years.

Harvard professor Chester Pierce came up with the concept in 1970, noting “Every Black must recognize the offensive mechanisms used by the collective White society, usually by means of cumulative proracist microaggressions, which keep him psychologically accepting of the disenfranchised state.”

However, his theory did not really take off until about a decade ago. And take off it did.

But scholars are now investigating whether microaggressions are really a legitimate thing.

George Leef at The James G. Martin Center reports:

The scientific method calls for sufficient sample sizes, unbiased questions, replicability of results, and modern statistical analysis. The research done to prove the validity of the microaggression concept and its policy implications, on the other hand, is rooted in subjective storytelling that “enables the implementation of a highly politicized agenda and places a social change agenda above objective research.”

Take the basic question of whether members of minority groups perceive and are damaged by the microaggressions that supposedly swirl around them. The researchers claim that this has been established, but has it? [The Center for Equal Opportunity’s Althea] Nagai looks at the research here and immediately notes that the way it has been conducted relies on the use of biased questions. For instance, a small group of people might be asked, “In what ways have others made you feel ‘put down’ because of your cultural values or communication style?”

Nagai explains the problem with that approach. “After such prompting by the interviewer, respondents would be more likely to find what the research is looking for.” This isn’t the way to find truth, but it is a way to “prove” what you’ve decided you want others to believe.

Another defect in this research is that it relies on small focus groups where peer pressure dynamics and a desire to please the interviewer can lead to very unreliable results. “One or two participants may end up controlling the whole group,” Nagai writes.

Emory University’s Scott Lilienfeld adds that there is “negligible support” for the “five core premises” on which microaggression theory rests.

And, he agrees with Nagai: “The focus groups used to generate candidate microaggression items…have consistently been self-selected to include group leaders and participants who are strongly predisposed to believe in microaggressions….”

Read the full piece.

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