This opinion piece from the Jeff Bezos owned Washington Post makes a counter-intuitive point, namely the more a democracy seeks to legislate against letting people voice opinions which might hurt the sentiments of minorities, the more such divisions (between the majority and the minorities) get entrenched. Whilst the piece focuses on the US, the subject discussed here has obvious relevance for contemporary India:
“This harbinger of the era of “microaggressions” occurred while Congress was enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1991, adding to existing law a provision for compensatory and punitive damages — not for lost wages because of harassment, but for emotional distress.
Law shapes as well as reflects culture, and Gail L. Heriot of the University of San Diego School of Law argues in her essay “The Roots of Wokeness” that those new Title VII damage remedies 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 in the monetary stakes. In the final quarter of 1991, the number of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) harassment charges increased 71 percent over the same period in 1990.
The change discouraged racial and sexual harassment. At the considerable cost, Heriot argues, of “strengthen[ing] identity politics while weakening support for free expression” concerning race or sex. Because employers could be liable for a “hostile environment” created by employees, the change regarding remedial measures “made it pay for employers to start vigilantly policing their employees’ speech.” Because there were now “generous remedies for a vaguely defined wrong” — a “hostile environment” could be the cumulative effect of small annoyances — employers tended toward “zero tolerance” policies.
So, a multibillion-dollar training (“consciousness-raising,” updated) industry was born to supplement the programs of corporations’ burgeoning human resources bureaucracies. Heriot says trainers and administrators wished to justify not just their basic services but also the expansion of them: “The level of sensitivity they promoted grew ever more exacting, as exemplified by the popularization of the concepts of micro-aggressions and white privilege.”
For the sensitivity industry, the concepts of microaggressions and zero tolerance have become gifts that can never stop giving. Mostly invisible, the aggressions can be identified only by the sensitivity industry’s experts. Everyone else cannot be too careful.”
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