Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 19, 2021

Microaggressions, Questionable Science, And Free Speech

Edward Cantu (UMKC) & Lee Jussim (Rutgers; Google Scholar), Microaggressions, Questionable Science, and Free Speech, 26 Tex. Rev. L. & Pol. ___ (2021):

The topic of microaggressions is hot currently. Diversity administrators regularly propagate lists of alleged microaggressions and express confidence that listed items reflect what some psychologists claim they do: racism that is, at the very least, unconscious in the mind of the speaker. Legal academics are increasingly leveraging microaggression research in theorizing law and proposing legal change. But how scientifically legitimate are claims by some psychologists about what acts constitute microaggressions? The authors—one a law professor, the other a psychologist—argue that the answer is “not much.” In this article, the authors dissect the studies, and critique the claims, of microaggression researchers.

They then explore the ideological glue that seems to hold the current microaggression construct together, and that best explains its propagative success. They close by warning of the socially caustic and legally pernicious effects the current microaggression construct can cause if academics, administrators, and the broader culture continue to subscribe to it without healthy skepticism.

When scientists speak, people listen, even if the science is unscientific. If scientists are going to declare a broad and indeterminate number of acts inherently subtly racist, and a critical mass of those in positions of power and influence are ideologically inclined to believe them, it is imperative that the claims not be grossly exaggerated and that they be grounded in solid scientific methodology. The [current microaggression construct ("CMC")] fails in this regard. After critical analysis, the CMC appears to be a project in attempting to retroactively validate initial ideological hunches; or, at best, to give voice to POC by substituting the scientific method for the perceptions of some of them. Whichever it may be, it is clear that, at this point, nobody—neither diversity administers, academics, or journalists—should take currently propagated lists of microaggressions as representative of anything meaningful. We assert this not to be gratuitously insulting to CMC researchers, but to forestall the harms that the CMC we fear may cause.

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