Reviews | How America Became a Nation of the Awakened and Suspicious, Walking on Eggshells
A campus executive ordered the photo removed because it may contribute to a “cold” classroom climate, violating the Sexual Harassment Act. This harbinger of the era of “microaggressions” occurred as Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1991adding to existing law a provision for compensatory and punitive damages – not for lost wages due to harassment, but for emotional distress.
The law shapes and reflects culture, and Gail L. Heriot from the University of San Diego Law School supports in its test “The Roots of Awakening” that these new titles VII remedies for damage propelled the nation’s downward spiral into identity politics, speech regulation and an epidemic of irritability. After the change, Heriot reports, there was “a dramatic increase in the number of harassment charges filed” and monetary stakes. In the last quarter of 1991, the number of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) harassment charges increased 71% over the same period in 1990.
The change discouraged racial and sexual harassment. At the considerable cost, according to Heriot, of “strengthening[ing] identity politics while weakening support for free speech” regarding race or gender. Since employers could be held responsible for a “hostile environment” created by employees, the change to remedial measures “made employers pay to start vigilantly monitoring their employees’ speech”. Because there now existed “generous remedies for a vaguely defined wrong” – a “hostile environment” could be the cumulative effect of small annoyances – employers tended to adopt “zero tolerance” policies.
Thus, a multi-billion dollar training (“awareness”, update) industry was born to supplement the agendas of burgeoning corporate human resource bureaucracies. Heriot says that trainers and administrators wanted to justify not only their basic services, but also their expansion: “The level of sensitivity they promoted became increasingly demanding, as evidenced by the popularization of micro- assaults and white privilege.”
For the sentience industry, the concepts of microaggressions and zero tolerance have become gifts that can never stop giving. Mostly invisible, attacks can only be identified by experts in the sensitivity industry. Not everyone can be too careful.
It has become legally difficult for employees to say “the most qualified person should get the job”, or “America is the land of opportunity”, or “America is a melting pot” or “All lives matter” . America has become the country of suspicious people who walk on eggshells. Vague and changing definitions of “harassment” impede the exercise of First Amendment right to speak.
In 1986, the Supreme Court tenuous that the EEOC had correctly decided that employees have the right (hereafter the court’s language) “to work in an environment free from discriminatory bullying, ridicule and insult”. Heriot rightly calls this “a somewhat unusual statement” because “no one has general “right” to be free from ridicule or insult, and the federal government cannot, under the First Amendment, create such a right” for “the employment context.”
The evolution of “harassment” and “hostile environment” law has resulted in attitudinal changes consistent with three emerging cultural ideas: that it is healthy to define one’s identity by reference to race, gender or to ethnic origin. That should pay close attention to slights, even if micro. And that there is a right to go through life without emotional distress caused by abraded sensitivities.
The time had come, America’s aspiration was for concerns about racial, sexual, and ethnic differences to lose their political significance and recede as gender and racial relations loosened. Instead, these concerns intensified as government policy encouraged them and enacted discrimination on the basis of them.
The Penn State instructor who objected to ‘Naked Maja’ felt ’embarrassed’: ‘I identified with her as a woman. I felt like I was there, naked, exposed and vulnerable… I’ve always had the impression that when a woman is depicted naked and ridiculed, we all are. One wonders: do people who watch the original at the Prado see the ridicule?
No matter. For the American cultural sensitivity industry, all that matters is the “victim’s” response. The day Penn State ordered the reproduction removed was the day Congress passed the expanded “harassment” remedies.