This event was also evidence of the increasingly popular belief that individuals have the right to live without being offended. By such a standard, America is a hellish place.
On January 25, Sharing Stories, Building Allyhood: Student Voices Against Islamophobia, an event devoted to student experiences with Islamophobia, packed the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union. Yet at least some of what was shared might be better characterized as “celebrating victimhood” than combating Islamophobia defined as a hatred of Muslims and Islam.
While some stories recounted actual events, many were focused on extrapolations made from seemingly ordinary actions. One individual insisted that a question directed at them regarding their opinions on recent terror events clearly insinuated their support of terrorism and was thus a micro-aggression. The question could not have been just a question. Another student described an experience on one of our campus busses, in which another individual chose to stand rather than sit next her. Once again this was accredited to Islamophobia and not the simple unwillingness to sit uncomfortably close to strangers.
There will always be people who say or do things that offend us, no matter our race. It is part of living as an adult.
Organizers of the supposedly apolitical event went so far as to accuse governors and presidential candidates of racism for their opposition to accepting Syrian refugees until through background checks can be completed. While some xenophobic sentiments do bear hallmarks of racism, opposing blind acceptance of “refugees” does not constitute institutional racism.
Of course, such rhetoric is indicative of the recent fetishization of micro-aggressions. This ideology is toxic. It draws attention away from the real issues – when people are physically attacked or illegally harassed. These crimes should be condemned when they happen in our communities and the perpetrators should face the legal repercussions. Unfortunately, when people begin pointing to micro-aggressions and leveling claims that they fear for their lives as they walk across the Diag in the mid afternoon, the real issues are utterly disrespected. As students, we should be encouraged to cope with micro-aggressions, because there will always be people who say or do things that offend us, no matter our race. It is part of living as an adult.
This event was also evidence of the increasingly popular belief that individuals have the right to live without being offended. By such a standard, America is a hellish place. It is a place where free expression is treasured and where you can express opposition to a sensitive topic without a trigger warning. Yet, more and more, our college campuses are becoming safe zones, actively discouraging free speech and rigorous academic discourse. Our campuses should be places of open exchange, argument, and defense of beliefs.
These issues of coddling, over protection, and silencing extend far beyond Islamophobia. At the University of Michigan, rhetoric in opposition of the dominant, progressive side of issues is often labeled hate speech and has become punishable on our campus. As students we should stand up and challenge the ideas and views that we find problematic instead of aiming to silence those we disagree with.