“Microaggressions”, “Trigger Warnings”, and the New Meaning of “Trauma”

02Jan15

When I joined the Marines, I met a man who had survived a helicopter crash during a training exercise. The first time I saw him his head and face were covered in burn scars. A balloon filled with saline, that looked like a dinosaur’s crest, was implanted in his scalp to stretch the skin so hair could grow. Something that looked exactly like the checkered buttstock of an M16A2 was imprinted on one side of his head. He greeted me when I checked in to my unit, and totally ignored the shocked expression I must have had when he approached. He shook my hand, asked a few questions, then left with a friendly “See you later, PFC.” His demeanor left me with the absurd thought, Maybe he doesn’t know how strange he looks.

He had been assigned to my reserve unit while undergoing treatment at a nearby military burn unit. I wound up becoming friends with him later, and eventually worked up the nerve to ask him about the crash. Of course, I quickly followed my question with, “But if you don’t want to talk about it, nevermind. Sorry.”

He brushed off my concerns. “Nah, no problem. The day I can’t talk about it is the day it starts to haunt me.”

He told me about loading up with his platoon in the helicopter that day. He described what it was like to see the ground coming through the window and realize they were about to crash. He talked about grabbing his seat belt release, being knocked unconscious on impact by his rifle butt slamming into his temple, and waking up on the floor with his head on fire. He told me how he crawled toward the exit, in flames, past screaming, burning Marines trapped in their seats. He recounted his memory of shouting that he would come back to help them. He told me how he managed to drag himself over the edge of the helicopter’s ramp and fall into a rice paddy. He told me about other Marines who saw the crash and ran to save him and some others. He talked about all the friends he lost that day, more than a dozen. He talked about how much he missed being an infantryman, and how he had made peace with the fact that he could never be one again.

What struck me was how easily he was able to tell the story. I had never heard of someone making a decision not to let trauma affect their lives. I had a great uncle, still alive then, who had been a Marine in the Korean War. He came back traumatized, took years to get back to normal, and to his dying day never told anyone in the family what he experienced. Even after I became a Marine, he gave me only the barest details of his service. As far as I know he never told his Marine son either. Unlike my friend, my uncle couldn’t talk about his trauma.

I’ve experienced trauma myself. I don’t know how many murder scenes I’ve worked as a police officer. I remember the shock I felt when I walked up to a car after a seemingly minor accident and saw a two year old’s head lying on the floorboard. I stood helplessly outside a burning house as a ninety-two year old woman died inside, while her son screamed hysterically beside me. For years after my time as a soldier in Iraq I’d have a startle response if I unexpectedly saw a flash, like from a camera, in my peripheral vision (it reminded me of flashes from roadside bombs). Soldiers near me were shot, burned or killed by weather in Afghanistan.

My childhood wasn’t rosy either; early one morning when I was eight I heard pounding on our kitchen door, then was terrified to see a family member stumble into the house covered in blood after being attacked by a neighbor. Even today, after thirty-five years, I still sometimes tense up when I hear a knock at the door. When I was ten, my eleven year old best friend committed suicide because of a minor sibling dispute. He wrote a note, left a will, snuck his father’s pistol from a drawer and shot himself. I was severely affected by his death, and ten years later got a copy of his suicide note from the city morgue. After I read it, I finally felt that I could heal from that horrible event.

I’m no stranger to trauma, and I’ve dealt with it by writing and talking about it. I suppose I’ve always defined “trauma” the traditional way: a terrible experience, usually involving significant loss or mortal danger, which left a lasting scar. However, I’ve recently discovered my definition of trauma is wrong. Trauma now seems to be pretty much anything that bothers anyone, in any way, ever. And the worst “trauma” seems to come not from horrible brushes with death like I described above; instead, they’re the result of racism and discrimination.

Over the last year I’ve heard references to “Microagressions” and “Trigger Warnings”. Trigger Warnings tell trauma victims that certain material may “contain disturbing themes that may trigger traumatic memories for sufferers”; it’s a way for them to continue avoiding what bothers them, rather than facing it (and the memories that get triggered often seem to be about discrimination, rather than mortal danger). Microaggressions are minor, seemingly innocuous statements that are actually stereotype-reinforcing trauma, even if the person making the statement meant nothing negative.

Here are two examples of “trauma” from the “Microaggression Project” (http://www.microaggressions.com/):

My dad jokes with my younger sister that he remembers selling Girl Scout Cookies when he was a Girl Scout. She laughs, understanding the fact that since he’s a boy means that he could not have been a Girl Scout. Thanks, Dad. I’m a boy and a formal Girl Scout.

The assumption that Girl Scouts will be girls. That causes trauma.

24, female-bodied, in a relationship – so Facebook shows me ads with babies, wedding dresses, and engagement rings. Change gender on Facebook to male – suddenly I get ads pertaining to things I actually care about.

Facebook thinking a woman might be interested in marriage and children. That causes trauma.

A horrible example of microaggression: asking someone if they've been to Europe. Photo credit http://purpmagazine.com/lets-discuss-nu-microaggressions/swag

A horrible example of microaggression: asking someone if they’ve been to Europe. Photo credit http://purpmagazine.com/lets-discuss-nu-microaggressions/swag

As one might expect, “Microaggressions” and “Trigger Warnings” are most popular in our universities. In late 2013 A group of UCLA students staged a “sit-in” protest against a professor for – no joke – correcting their papers. These “Graduate Students of Color” began an online petition stating “Students consistently report hostile classroom environments in which the effects of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and other forms of institutionalized oppression have manifested within the department and deride our intellectual capacity, methodological rigor, and ideological legitimacy. Empirical evidence indicates that these structural and interpersonal microaggressions wreak havoc on the psychophysiological health and retention rates of People of Color. The traumatic experiences of GSE&IS students and alumni confirm this reality” (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/931/772/264/ucla-call2action/).

A college professor expecting graduate students to write grammatically correct papers. That causes trauma.

In addition to correcting grammar, the professor insulted the “Graduate Students of Color” by changing “Indigenous” to the proper “indigenous” in their papers, thus reinforcing white colonial oppression of indigenous people. Oh, and he shook a black student’s arm during a discussion. “Making physical contact with a student is inappropriate, [the aggrieved Graduate Student of Color] added, and there are additional implications when an older white man does so with a younger black man” (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/11/25/ucla-grad-students-stage-sit-during-class-protest-what-they-see-racially-hostile).

A white professor gently touching a black student’s arm. That causes trauma.

More trauma-producing microaggression: asking someone about their ethnic background. "Typically, microaggressions are associated with subtle forms of racism, but they do go beyond race. For instance, 'You throw like a girl,' is a verbal microaggression, and the action of a White individual clutching his/her bag because a Latino is approaching, is a behavioral microaggression." From http://lagente.org/2014/01/gentistas-share-experiences-with-microaggressions/

More trauma-producing microaggression: asking someone about their ethnic background. “Typically, microaggressions are associated with subtle forms of racism, but they do go beyond race. For instance, “You throw like a girl,” is a verbal microaggression, and the action of a White individual clutching his/her bag because a Latino is approaching, is a behavioral microaggression.” From http://lagente.org/2014/01/gentistas-share-experiences-with-microaggressions/

I’ve reviewed these reports of “trauma”, and have reached a conclusion about them. I’m going to make a brief statement summarizing my conclusion. While I mean this in the nicest way possible, I don’t want victims of Microaggressions or supporters of Trigger Warnings to doubt my sincerity.

Fuck your trauma.

Yes, fuck your trauma. My sympathy for your suffering, whether that suffering was real or imaginary, ended when you demanded I change my life to avoid bringing up your bad memories. You don’t seem to have figured this out, but there is no “I must never be reminded of a negative experience” expectation in any culture anywhere on earth.

If your psyche is so fragile you fall apart when someone inadvertently reminds you of “trauma”, especially if that trauma consisted of you overreacting to a self-interpreted racial slur, you need therapy. You belong on a psychiatrist’s couch, not in college dictating what the rest of society can’t do, say or think. Get your own head right before you try to run other people’s lives. If you expect everyone around you to cater to your neurosis, forever, you’re what I’d call a “failure at life”, doomed to perpetual disappointment.

Reason.com

Reason.com

Oh, I should add: fuck my trauma too. I must be old-fashioned, but I always thought coming to terms with pain was part of growing up. I’ve never expected anyone to not knock on my door because it reminds me of that terrifying morning decades ago. I’ve never blown up at anyone for startling me with a camera flash (I’ve never even mentioned it to anyone who did). I’ve never expected anyone to not talk about Iraq or Afghanistan around me, even though some memories still hurt. I don’t need trigger warnings because a book might remind me of a murder victim I’ve seen.

And before anyone says it; being Hispanic doesn’t make me any more sympathetic to people who experience nonexistent, discriminatory “trauma”. Discrimination didn’t break me (or my parents, or grandparents). I’ve been discriminated against by whites for being Hispanic. I’ve been threatened by blacks for being white. I’ve been insulted by Hispanics for not being Hispanic enough. Big deal. None of that stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do. It wasn’t “trauma”. It was life.

Generations of Americans experienced actual trauma. Our greatest generation survived the Depression, then fought the worst war in humanity’s history, then built the United States into the most successful nation that has ever existed. They didn’t accomplish any of that by being crystal eggshells that would shatter at the slightest provocation, they didn’t demand society change to protect their tender feelings. They simply dealt with the hardships of their past and moved on. Even my great uncle, the Korea Marine, never expected us to tiptoe around him. He wouldn’t talk about his experience, but he didn’t order us not to.

So again, fuck your trauma. If your past bothers you that much, get help. I honestly hope you come to terms with it. I hope you manage to move forward. I won’t say anything meant to dredge up bad memories, and don’t think anyone should intentionally try to harm your feelings.

But nobody, nobody, should censor themselves to protect you from your pathological, and pathologically stupid, sensitivities.

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Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).

http://www.amazon.com/Line-Valley-Chris-Hernandez-ebook/dp/B00HW1MA2G/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=09XSSHABSWPC3FM8K6P4
http://www.amazon.com/Proof-Our-Resolve-Chris-Hernandez-ebook/dp/B0099XMR1E/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0S6AGHBTJZ6JH99D56X7



476 Responses to ““Microaggressions”, “Trigger Warnings”, and the New Meaning of “Trauma””

  1. 1 Colin

    I just wanted to say thank you for this article because you’ve put into words exactly how I’ve felt about this issue, and it was… a pleasant surprise to see this. It gave me strong feelings of solidarity and camaraderie with you, thank you so much.

  2. 2 Jimi

    400+ comments has pretty much said everything I could except, I love you, Man!

  3. 3 Baylmn

    Man I couldn’t have said this better myself, and this is coming from a sensitive autistic woman who had some serious toughening up to do in college. Socially, I crashed and burned my first two years in the university dealing with many whiny people like this IRL, and then someone very close to me for years ended up making some devastating decisions which derailed many beliefs I once held strongly. Not to mention the academic difficulties stemming from professors with the “weed out” mentality. I survived it all. And I know it could all be worse.

  4. 4 Bbudha

    And how is this whine fest any different from those college students whining about what offends them? “Mommy, mommy, I don’t like it when college students complain about what bothers them, make them stop, waa waa!”
    Exactly the same kind of sob story.

  5. We couldn’t expect any less from a culture that puts warnings on jars of peanut butter reminding us that peanut butter contains peanut butter.

  6. 1. Thank you for your service.
    2. Amen.
    3. Thank you for your service.

  7. Reblogged this on Snyder's Soapbox and commented:
    The language in this is rough in parts. The 4 letter word is used, but we should be aware of what is going on. I’ve seen this at work. We had to go through training for microaggressions. This is the tool the enemy is using to get rid of the 1st amendment.

  8. 8 Lee

    Too bad the only people who see the danger of what is happening are [TRIGGER WARNING] old [/TRIGGER WARNING]. Trigger warnings and microaggressions, (sorry, still don’t understand that one) are an insult and deeply offensive to those who have undergone real trauma. I survived a childhood of sexual abuse, beatings, and extreme poverty to alcoholic parents. They weren’t any trigger warnings back then.

    These coddled manginas need to get some dirt in their p*ssies or else they will never be able to live in the real world where people don’t care about your psychological well being.

    • 9 Ironic Irony

      “are an insult and deeply offensive to those who have undergone real trauma”
      This was meant to be ironic, right?

  9. Great article. I wish I could send this to my professors, but I would get expelled faster than you could say “trigger warning.” Thank you for your service.

  10. “After I read it, I finally felt that I could heal from that horrible event.”
    Those are exactly the words i needed, thank you, i couldn’t describe my feelings before. Only last week i was granted acess to the pictures of my mother’s car crash ten years ago, terrible, horrible images, people would tell me those aren’t the memories you should have of her(better to only have happy memories) but i couldn’t explain why i wanted to see it, it wasn’t curiosity, it was overcoming it, i finally feel like i can heal now, just give me plain hard truth, life is like that, full of horror, but fuck your trauma, and fuck the horror, great post!

  11. 12 Peter

    In my research on survivors of the Holocaust, my students and I have interviewed over 100 survivors, viewed the videotaped interviews of a couple of hundred more, and read the narratives of hundreds. When we started the research, our university insisted that a psychotherapist or counselor be on call in case the interviewees or researchers showed trauma symptoms during or after the experience.
    Probably needless to say, not one individual ever used this service. In fact, research shows that talking about trauma (real trauma here, not the micro-aggression kind) is beneficial for trauma survivors.

    • I’ve never heard of any mental health professional telling a patient to avoid what bothers them for the rest of their lives.

      Thanks for the insight, Peter.

  12. 14 Luke

    Thank you! I’m a black college student and it seems like I’m the only one that gets bothered by the kind of BS my fellow college students term discriminative behavior.

  13. 15 Meh

    It isn’t fair at all that victims of sexual assault are accused of lying and faking it and are called special snowflakes now.

    • 16 Charlie Zim

      If by “sexual assault” you mean where a guy obtains sexual gratification by putting his penis in the vagina, mouth, or anus of an unwilling woman, well of course the rapist is going to accuse the victim of lying. If the rapist is a “pillar of the community,” unfortunately people are going to believe the rapist and not the victim.

      But in cases where the “victim” is lying, and it can be demonstrated that she’s lying, she’s the one that needs to go to prison.


  1. 1 A view on society (also: sex/gender) | ORGANIZING CREATIVITY
  2. 2 Safe Spaces at Universities | ORGANIZING CREATIVITY
  3. 3 Quote du Jour | Trigger warning - Sargasso
  4. 4 The true meaning of ‘trauma’ | Churchmouse Campanologist
  5. 5 ADDICTING INFO’S “BEST DEFENSE” AGAINST MASS-MURDERERS WILL GET PEOPLE KILLED | Dispatches from a Digital Heretic
  6. 6 We’re Not “Minorities.” We’re Veterans. We’re Americans. | STEVEN HILDRETH, JR.
  7. 7 The Price of Privilege
  8. 8 Entrylog#116 The Final Images of my Mother, first post, Npc’s, and Healing |
  9. 9 Breaking Through: “Microaggressions,” “Trigger Warnings,” and the New Meaning of “Trauma”
  10. 10 University Teaches Survival Skills - The Organic Prepper
  11. 11 Instead of Providing “Safe Spaces” This University Teaches Survival Skills | From the Trenches World Report
  12. 12 Instead of Providing “Safe Spaces” This University Teaches Survival Skills - NorthWest Liberty News
  13. 13 Living In The Age Of Outrage | Bloggsom
  14. 14 LIVING IN THE AGE OF OUTRAGE – Jakob_EGO
  15. 15 When bad hair days and campaign signs cause “trauma,” the concept has gone too far – Washington Post | Technologies GlobAll News

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