Awhile ago, when that super long and bullsh*tty article in The Atlantic came out, I jotted down some thoughts about trigger warnings for this blog. But then I found some other articles that were far better said, and also, it’s such a dead horse issue at this point, it didn’t seem worth it to hit “Publish.”
Then Barry O-Bams got into it, and I got inspired.
I am not an academic, or even someone who had any experience in my academic career (which was short) that would have been better with trigger warnings, safe spaces, political correctness, etc.
Basically, I have 0 skin in the game. Except that I am a human being, which, as you’ll read, is kind of the crux of my whole view on this.
Number 1: I find it really hilarious that the second students ask for any changes, additions, or deletions from their education, they are met with brick walls and “In my day!”s. Well, not hilarious.
Our benevolent higher education gods know America is a capitalist country, and they have been working their little butts off to make education as profitable as possible. In fact, this issue is a total capitalism sandwich: on one side, administrators control the product with a “take it or leave it” attitude because they essentially have a monopoly since college grads statistically make more than those without degrees; on the other, students – aka, customers – are demanding certain standards for this product they’re paying for.
God forbid they should ask for some say in whose huge speaking fee they (or their parents, or the taxpayers, or the donors) pay! Especially if that person does not represent the values and ideals they are essentially going into debt to learn how to hone and make real in the world.
In what world are people forced to pay millions of dollars for the rest of their lives for things they don’t want?
This one. It’s this world.
Number 2: The majority of people who make decisions about what students study and discuss in class are straight, white, cisgendered men. No, really.
This means they are less likely to both consider point of views beyond theirs as lenses for that information, AND that they are less likely to include the voices of those with less privilege than them in course designs and curriculum.
Do you know what that means? It means that, when students ask for things like trigger warnings and safe spaces or they protest certain speakers, it is a radical act. To openly question authority and mainstream thought… is that not the point of education? To look beyond the status quo? To be curious and to stand up for your values and to put your brain to work for a greater good… is that not worth the millions of dollars they’ll pay?
I mean really, who’s most sensitive in that scenario: the people who are asking for their education to catch up with the fing times, or the people who made such a fuss about it they got the President of the United States involved?
Which leads me to…
Number 3: For places that are supposed to be educating future generations so they will continue our upwards evolution for generations to come (thereby ensuring our existence on this planet), higher ed institutions are remarkably inflexible. Hmmm…. I wonder what that says for their potential longevity?
(Spoiler Alert: it says they’re f*cked.)
Number 4: My main man Barack aside, I have yet to see anyone but older white people complaining about this, anecdotally and irl. I am 100% sure there are all different kinds of people who fall on all possible sides of this issue, but only one type of person has written scathing articles in major publications about it.
This leads me to believe this is just another one of those things rich, clueless white people are afraid of because it requires them to check their privilege and also acknowledge they are no longer relevant (if they ever were).
Number 5: As someone who uses tumblr a lot and feels like it has reached critical mass for its own tumblrness, i fully recognize how these things can get out of hand. I’ve seen people asked for trigger warnings on (what I deem) the dumbest shit. Even tumblr acknowledges that throwing out the word “problematic” every time you’re upset is problematic.
But that’s an extreme. It is a convenient faux-example – like when opponents say gay marriage will lead to people marrying their dogs – used to scare and agitate others. In actuality, no one is asking anyone to put warnings on things and then give people option to not do the work; they are asking for a. a head’s up so they can emotionally prepare for the reading, and b. an openness about what the f we are really studying, which, again, is more often than not colored and shaped by the majority (rich, white, cisgendered men).
Regarding the latter, trigger warnings, et al. are keys to long-locked doors. Requiring teachers tell their students ahead of time that a reading might include rape, racism, sexism, violence (etc.) means that they have to acknowledge that those things are part of the piece, and they allow their students to bring those things up for discussion. I know it’s easier to live in a world where there’s no conflict ever and we can just pretend terrible things never existed and The Birth of a Nation is just one link in the timeline of film history.
But none of that’s true. And by trying to pretend it’s true, you’re turning a very obvious blind eye to some real sh*t.
“Political Correctness” in higher ed is a loud call for real context and head-on confrontation of the reality of the world.
I ask again: who is more sensitive here?
On a, people who understand and confront the reality of triggering (a very small group because this requires emotional intelligence, something that is not often taught or cultivated) recognize that we all get triggered and it can happen any time, but avoiding these types of situations can often be counterproductive, especially in the work of social change.
There are a variety of techniques a person can use to avoid being triggered, one of which is called “meshing”. Meshing is the practice of mentally strengthening yourself when you think you might be triggered, so you don’t get swept up in it and carried away. You imagine you are a screen door, and things pass right through you. Hence, meshing.
The tools are out there, and they are tools that will help everyone interact with each other, and get to know themselves better. So why are we are not teaching these techniques to future generations? Not only are we not teaching this level of emotional intelligence, but we’re actively telling people they are wrong for both being triggered – a SUPER common occurrence for all humans everywhere – and for giving a sh*t about others being triggered.
This brings us to…
Number 6: It is basic human decency to be kind and caring when someone tells you they are hurt or offended. Pushing back when someone expresses emotion is the basic definition of an asshole.
It took me a long time to learn this, and even then, I had to piece it together on my own. The world does not natively nurture love for each other, especially not in a capitalist country. Capitalism is an every man for himself mentality; sharing doesn’t generate financial profits, so who gives a sh*t?
It’s extremely important we instill the concept of caring for our fellow humans in those who will be taking care of us in the future. I shouldn’t have to tell you why, but, considering the topic of this post, I know I probably have to:
If we don’t teach everyone how to love each other, we will not last long as species. In a more immediate timeframe, if we don’t teach future generations to take care of each other, they will not take care of us.
Lastly, I am not sure where this fits, but I thought of it when I was writing this.
My favorite book when I was 15 years old was Push, the novel the film Precious was based on. If you saw the movie (or read the book), I probably don’t need to tell you how messed up it is. If you don’t know anything about the story, it is messed. up.
At 15-16, though, it was fascinating to me. I was a little messed up & morbid myself, so a book that’s just perverse tragedy all the way down was exactly what I was looking for. I learned a lot from that book, and the many other pieces of messed up media I loved back in the day (Whores for Gloria was another of my fav books, and I owned about eight fiction books just about teen heroin addiction).
Recently, I picked up the sequel to Push, The Kid. For whatever reason, these books are both now classified as YA lit, which they were not when I was younger, and I am actually really curious to know why they are now. Anyway, I was actually kind of excited to read it and maybe relive some of that magic I experienced with the first book.
I could not make it even 5 pages. Maybe the book loosens up later, but I don’t think that would have been worth it considering how absolutely rough those first few pages are. They take you through ever horror you could imagine, and – again! – this isn’t even into the second chapter.
I returned the book.
What does this mean? Does it mean I’m weak? Sensitive? Asking to be coddled?
I don’t think so. There is a huge difference between me at 15 and me now: I know a hell of a lot more now.
At 15, I had not lived any life whatsoever. I had little life experience, and I looked to media to fill me in. But by 33, I did not need that info anymore. Whatever lessons it could give me, I already learned.