I return from my job bar-backing at around 2 a.m., knowing that my on-campus job is at 8 a.m. the next morning. Yet, I crawl out of bed dreading not work, but the filtered conversations I know I will encounter that day. Working at a bar means witnessing drunken patrons saying problematic things in an already naturally misogynistic space, but going to Yale means that conversations can be paused at any given moment so that we can “unpack that microaggression.” While I definitely prefer the latter environment — a thoughtful community that understands the importance of creating a safe space — and I believe that the nature of conversation at Yale reflects the caring individuals who attend this institution, I find myself exhausted.
Early in the year I was rightfully called out by a friend saying, “Wow that’s a kind of transphobic comment.” I can attribute the origin of my comment to hanging around a problematic father and growing up in a mainly people of color community that was, oddly enough, socially unaware. I had not thought deeply enough about the comment to realize that it was a microaggression and was incredibly thankful that I was made aware.
Yet, for the rest of the night and into the next day, I found myself hesitant to make conversation and down on myself for “not knowing better.” As the year goes on, I find this still happening. I will slip and say a colloquial phrase or an unpopular opinion and find myself socially debilitated after being called “kinda problematic.” I worry that others face a similar dilemma.
I find conversations heavily filtered, and groups often avoiding topics that may be too controversial so as to not endanger our “wokeness.” Living in an environment in which groups cannot discuss something as simple as their favorite movies because of the ever-present fear that what they liked in high school, or what they like now, could be seen by others as problematic isn’t what I would call a “safe space.” Frankly, I love La La Land even if it is just about white people falling in love and subtly appropriating jazz.
I think people do not understand that being “woke” is a privileged state of being. It means that one was lucky enough to grow up in a socially-aware environment with liberal views that align with that of the Yale population. They have been blessed with great friends who have educated them on politically correct phrasing, or they have had the time to educate themselves. While this state of being is less privileged than the forms we typically discuss on campus, I believe it should still be recognized as a form of privilege.
In social spaces, we need to understand the diversity of our backgrounds. Instead of being hostile “woke police,” it may be better to create an open dialogue in which we can point out microaggressions without devaluing or attacking the person making a problematic comment. A socially aware environment is one that can be, at times, socially stratifying. The passive-aggressive flexing of our socially-aware intellect is counterintuitive to the inclusivity that we attempt to create at this institution.
While I will not go so far as to call these interactions a new form of microaggression, I believe it is evident that an “attack first, educate later” mentality creates a social environment that is limited in topics and unchallenging in nature. It is obvious when someone is being genuinely problematic, and I am not asking that we allow racist, xenophobic or discriminatory comments to go unchecked.
But I do ask readers to consider how the privilege of being socially aware can lead us to attack and censor others who we know have made a mistake. They may simply have a different opinion and have not been given the opportunity to participate in an open discourse with great friends who try to understand the underlying reasons that result in problematic opinions or microaggressions. With the right conversations, we can all be “woke,” and maybe we can even be socially aware enough to understand that we can’t be “perfect.”
Branson Rideaux is a freshman in Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .