NC State: Calling America ‘A Land Of Opportunity’ Is A Microaggression

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A “microaggression tool” published by North Carolina State University’s faculty ombuds informs the school’s employees that phrases such as “America is a land of opportunity” or “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” are “microaggressions” and shouldn’t be used.

The tool was published last month by NC State faculty ombuds Roy Baroff. In an accompanying blog post on June 29, Baroff — who did not return a request for comment — said the topic of microaggressions “is important as we seek to build a more collegial environment and based on the concerns that faculty members bring to the NC State Faculty Ombuds Office.”

The tool defines microaggressions as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target people based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

The tool provides several examples of microaggressions.

One example microaggression, listed under the theme of the “myth of meritocracy,” is the phrase “I think the most qualified person should get the job.” The “message” hidden in this microaggression, according to the tool, is: “People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race.”

Another example microaggression in the same theme is the phrase “Gender plays no part in who we hire,” which apparently communicates the hidden message: “The playing field is even so if women can not make it, the problem is with them.”

“America is the land of opportunity,” is another microaggression that perpetuates the “myth of meritocracy,” as is the phrase, “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.” According to the tool, these microaggressions communicate the message that “People of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder.”

The phrase “America is a melting pot” is another example microaggression, listed under the theme of “color blindness.” So too is the phrase “There is only one race, the human race.” According to the tool, these microaggressions contain the hidden “message” of “Denying the significance of a person of color’s racial/ethnic experience and history.”

The tool was adapted from Derald Wing Sue’s 2010 book “Microaggressions in Everyday Life.” In the book, Sue claimed that a hypothetical “friendly neighbor” wishing a Jewish woman “Merry Christmas” would be a clear microaggression. Sue also called it ironic that “hate crimes are illegal, but microaggressions are not!”

Follow Peter Hasson on Twitter @PeterJHasson