Saturday, December 14, 2013

Delicate Flower Watch: Matthew Salesses, Racism in the Classroom

Wow, is this ever bad.

It's basically the story of how one kid said a rather mildly indelicate thing about the pronunciation of Hispanic surnames in a college class on day. This is supposed to show "racism in higher education."

The mind, it boggles.

Then we're treated to some whinging about the fact that some adoptive parents use the term "Gotcha Day" to refer to the day they adopted their adoptive kid(s). This, you see, is a horrific crime against humanity because it contains a word in common with 'gotcha journalism.'

Fortunately, most commenters on Salon seem to be calling out this bullshit.

This should go without saying: I'm not a fan of hurting people's feelings gratuitously or thoughtlessly.

However: for the love of God, toughen the fuck up. These sorts of minor incidents are the sorts of things that grownups just get over. Mr. Salesses, however, tells us that he has been:
...repeating this story to everyone I know, or everyone I know who doesn’t share this other student’s opinion—which, in truth, is everyone I know well enough to tell. And I have tried to own the story, too. I have tried to make it slightly different than it was, a story where we would all be outraged, where we would all have time to process and examine what happened. But in the classroom, this comment went otherwise unchallenged, and I left the class feeling completely undone, and blaming, no doubt unfairly, the entire state of Texas.
One really does have to wonder whether this is some kind of joke. How does this person get through life? This sort of thing wouldn't even register on my outrage meter. He was "undone" by this? He blamed the entire state of Texas? What madness is this?

But wait, there's more:
I didn’t know how to respond. I knew how I would have questioned this conversation as a teacher, how I would have shut it down before ownership of someone’s name was denied and then talked about the importance and implications of such a conversation, but I was not the instructor. I did not hold power in that classroom. What I did, which I hope was the right thing to do, was to say that “on the record”—I made a point of this—what this student had said made me extremely uncomfortable. I hoped that the instructor would take it from there, but he did not.
Jeez I hope this person never "holds power in the classroom." First, there is no such thing as "ownership" of your bloody name. But aside with that. Making someone "uncomfortable" is an insufficient reason for an instructor to shut down a conversation. A few sentences, in the case in question, would have probably been enough to make the student in question see that his point was fairly ridiculous. But if you think that an instructor should "shut down" a conversation because of such a peccadillo, you really don't belong in academia. 

This sort of nonsense seems epidemic to me. It's not just one or two people with overly-delicate feelings here or there. Rather, I think, it's a couple of theories, widely accepted on the lefter edges of liberalism and beyond. First, that being "offended" is a horrible injustice. And, second, that words matter a lot more than they actually do. This kind of nonsense is fairly widespread, and IMO it really ought to be addressed in a more systematic fashion, though I don't have any great suggestions about how to do so.


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