I’m going to talk about Beyonce.

But first some thoughts on Jonathan Haidt/Lee Jussim’s WSJ piece on race on campus. Haidt and Jussim have founded “The Heterodox Academy,” with the intention of increasing the diversity of viewpoints in academia.  But their commitment seems a little thin.

The WSJ article has two main thrusts: (1) increasing minority enrollment through affirmative action will reinforce harmful racial stereotypes, and (2) training people to be more sensitive to things like “microaggressions”will backfire and if anything increase racial tension. I have questions about both.

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Haidt has written about microaggressions before, and I think it’s fair to lump him in with the group of people who don’t take the idea particularly seriously.  By this I mean, he does not think that the concept is serious or worthy of respectful engagement, and his discussion of it is unserious. On his blog and in the WSJ he makes the point that something as innocuous as asking “where are you from” can be interpreted as aggressive. He gives no context for why someone might see the question this way. And it seems to me like he’s chosen it as an example not to give his readers a balanced or nuanced understanding of what people who talk about microaggressions are talking about, but to emphasize that concept is ridiculous on its face and exists only to manufacture outrage at the cost of reasonable and productive conversation.

But it is not that hard to imagine how the question “where are you from?” can be seen as an act of aggression or intolerance. Like, if College Humor can do it …

In the blog post linked above, Haidt worries that talking about microaggressions signals a shift towards a culture of victimhood, and away from one of dignity, where “dignity is inherent and cannot be alienated by others.” But, obviously, that worry assumes we have a culture in which dignity is inherent to begin with. Marginalized communities argue that we don’t, and microaggressions are both symptomatic and emblematic of that.

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Haidt and Jussim make the point that racial differences on SAT scores mirror and predict differences in college grades and graduation rates. They argue this achievement gap means that increasing minority enrollment will lead to self-segregation and reinforced stereotypes about the capacity for achievement, etc.  Brian Earp has an interesting article on the racial achievement gap and academic self-concept that’s worth a read.  I’m sure it’s just a scratch on the surface of an entire field of study, and I’m venturing into intellectual territory that’s largely foreign to me. But Earp makes the point convincingly, that what schools and tests and grades measure is in large part the ability to meet the rules and expectations of a culture that values certain ways of being, communicating, and thinking over others.

Academic performance is not some neutral and Platonic measure of a person. So one goal of increasing the number of black students admitted to a college & black faculty hires would be to engender support for constructing new and better measures.

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Ok, here goes. White men: you can’t and shouldn’t watch Lemonade without thinking about a world of experience that isn’t yours. These worlds exist, and they are inhabited by people with things to say. One way to encourage a diversity of viewpoints is to listen to them.

 

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