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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Is ‘land of opportunity’ offensive?

If college administrators aren’t going to train students and faculty in “cultural competence,” they should do it competently, writes Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic.

He cites an educational sheet that migrated from the University of California system to UC Santa Cruz, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, the court system of Philadelphia, and beyond. It lists “racial microaggressions” that “communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons.” Such as:

  1. “You speak good English.”

  2. “When I look at you I don’t see color.”

  3. “America is a melting pot.”

  4. “America is the land of opportunity.”

  5. “Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.”

The sheet doesn’t just try to prevent insults, writes Friedersdorf. It stigmatizes “contested viewpoints,” as UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh pointed out.

It’s also wrong, writes Friedersdorf.

The Cato/YouGov survey on free speech and tolerance that I reported on last week included questions about whether folks find the same sentiments expressed above offensive. Among the results? Telling a recent immigrant, “you speak good English” was deemed “not offensive” by 77 percent of Latinos; saying “I don’t notice people’s race” was deemed “not offensive” by 71 percent of African Americans and 80 percent of Latinos; saying “America is a melting pot” was deemed not offensive by 77 percent of African Americans and 70 percent of Latinos; saying “America is the land of opportunity” was deemed “not offensive” by 93 percent of African Americans and 89 percent of Latinos; and saying “everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough” was deemed “not offensive” by 89 percent of Latinos and 77 percent of African Americans.

I fear that first-year college students who been through “cultural competence” training will be less likely to talk to students from different racial/ethnic groups for fear of giving offense. That’s a very bad thing.

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