Now Conservatives are the "Discomfort Police"

tags: conservatism, censorship, culture war, teaching history, critical race theory

Jeffrey Aaron Snyder is associate professor and chair, Department of Educational Studies, at Carleton College in Northfield.

"Florida could shield whites from 'discomfort' of racist past." So read a recent Associated Press headline for an article outlining a new bill that would prohibit classroom lessons making students "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race."

Here lies the problem. Everybody hurts. Any person, any group, can and will, alas, claim to feel emotional distress in order to remove "troubling" books from public libraries or drop "upsetting" topics from the curriculum of public schools.

Florida is just one of the 36 states that have introduced legislation targeting discussions of race, racism, gender and U.S. history ("Book ban efforts spread across the U.S.," Jan. 31). Informed by former President Donald Trump's now defunct "divisive concepts" Executive Order, 14 of these states have already passed bills, which affect more than 17 million public school students.

Free expression advocate PEN America aptly calls this wave of legislation "educational gag orders." Aimed at alleged teaching of "critical race theory" the laws are already having predictable chilling effects, with teachers shying away from vital discussions about systemic racism, gender and sexuality.

We should not be surprised that conservatives are weaponizing the discomfort discourse that has gained traction among many liberals and social progressives within the past decade.

Left-leaning folks, especially those with a strong social justice orientation, have been more willing to turn to censorship of all kinds in order to protect people with minority identities from content deemed harmful.

This overriding concern with shielding people from harm is evident in the push for trigger warnings, which are now being used to allow students to opt-out of classrooms that elicit "difficult emotional responses." It can also be seen in the expansion of "sensitivity readers" in Young Adult literature, whose job is to vet manuscripts for racial stereotypes and other "problematic" content; in the rise of campus Bias Response Teams, which are tasked with investigating and responding to complaints about "bias incidents," ranging from microaggressions to "avoiding or excluding others"; and in the move to censor art that is seen as offensive to certain groups.

Read entire article at Minneapolis Star-Tribune

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