Last night, as a millennial bordering on Gen Z, I found myself doing what most of us do after campus or work on a week night these days: streaming and binge-watching my favourite show – Grown-ish – while scrolling through my feed, looking, unconsciously, for some sort of Twitter beef to indulge in. Soon after, a “hella woke” Zoey Johnson narrated, omnisciently, as if to be telling the story of my life:
“Every generation is known for something. Gen X gave us MTV, Friends, and the first black president. Millenials gave us reality TV, friends, and the real black president. And then there’s my generation, generation Z, the I-generation: we’re racially diverse, sexually diverse, ultra-socially conscious, and hypersensitive…”
I put my phone down. Hyper-sensitive? No. Me? A liberal, socially aware, hella woke feminist myself? OVERSENSITIVE?
But if you think about it, if you sit back and truly consider the stories that are making headlines and the kinds of things that we sometimes criticise, could we in fact be a generation that’s so consumed with overanalysing situations that we’ve completely hindered society at large’s freedom of expression?
Well, I guess it depends on the situation, and I think it’s a case of being over- vs. hypersensitive.
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(noun) excessively sensitive
“Participation trophies send a dangerous message” and “6-year-old suspended for kissing girl, accused of sexual harassment” are the examples Zoey mentions in the episode. We can think of a few other examples when, perhaps, we were too woke. Like when people decided maybe we should consider raising our children as “theybies”, instead of babies, so as to not give them a gender and only refer to them with the pronoun “they” until they’re 4 years old and able to decide if they want to identify as male or female.
We’ve become so sensitive that we now need to be notified via a trigger warning when a lecture, television show or campus poster might make us feel as thought we're being judged, marginalised or triggered. That’s not to say we shouldn't have warnings when dealing with mental health issues, rape and any other traumatic events that could be triggering. We most definitely should.
But as Jonah Goldberg points out in the Los Angeles Times, against the use of triggers: “Oberlin College's Office of Equity Concerns advised professors to avoid such triggering subjects as racism, colonialism and sexism.” He continued, “They soon rescinded it, perhaps because they realised that if such subjects become taboo, much of their faculty would be left with nothing to talk about.”
We don’t want to trigger anyone who might still be recovering from a traumatic event, but we should absolutely criticise and discuss things that make us uncomfortable.
Rowan Atkinson advises we should even be offended from time to time.
“We need to build our immunity to taking offence so that we can deal with the issues that perfectly justified criticism can raise,” he says. Quoting Barack Obama, he continues, “Laudable efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics or oppress minorities. The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech.
“If we want a robust society,” he concludes, “we need more robust dialogues, and that must include the right to insult or to offend.”
And our Bill of Rights does say, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression”, provided, of course, it in no way incites imminent violence or advocates harm or hatred based on ethnicity, gender, religion and race, a memo Adam Catzavelos didn't get when he was taking in the blue skies and amazing beach in Greece.
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(noun) easily hurt, worried, or offended.
If you know someone who, or you yourself, have ever said something grossly insensitive and tone-deaf, you’ll have experienced first-hand the wrath of woke or black twitter. Which is exactly what happened to Adam Catzavelos when he used the k-word.
Black Twitter has his home address , pic of his house , his cell number ,his businesses and the world can’t find who killed Tupac! #Adamcatzavelos— Siv Ngesi (@iamSivN) August 22, 2018
Because woke and black twitter will Liam Neeson you.
(Without the killing – obviously.)
Hypersensitivity is being socially aware that we are, for example, racially and sexually diverse. So we know full well that we have to be accepting of everyone, in every shape and form.
And that makes us more powerful than you think and exactly when we need to be too.
Not only did we identify a South African racist, in Greece, we also got the #menaretrash movement going to speak up and out against the abuse of women at the hands of men and the years and years of sexual harassment and assault with the international #Metoo movement. In 2013, #BlackLivesMatter also started trending on Twitter, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the student protests across SA campuses that quickly garnered international support, has much to do with the clever tag #rhodesmustfall, followed shortly by the even bigger #feesmustfall.
So yes, perhaps we have encouraged a generation of people to tiptoe around one another for fear of them nitpicking something we’ve said, because we incorrectly assumed they identified with a particular gendered pronoun. Truth is, there are worthy courses, topics we could and should debate, and then there are instances where people are dragged for simply having an opinion. So make the distinction then consider identifying the racist and sexist comments and, as Atkinson says, instead of simply attacking a person, deal with the message.
That being said, I do believe our hypersensitivity has also made us more vocal, powerful and completely and utterly intolerant, at least of your intention to incite harm and spew hatred. An H&M advert where an adorable little black child was put in a "coolest monkey in the jungle" hoodie comes to mind. While we don't necessarily know, or even think, that the brand intentionally meant that as a racist slur as so many suggested, if we weren't hypersensitive, this would've passed, and in fact, should they not have actually been more sensitive?
So I’ll admit, yes, we can be oversensitive, but our hypersensitivity has also forced us to be unapologetically politically correct, and it’s by time we are.
So not a trigger warning, but a regular one: If you’re going to make a sexist remark, or use the k-word, ever, you best believe, while we don’t know who you are, and we don’t know what you want, we will look for you, we will find you, and we will, at the very least, make you apologise.
Do you think Gen Z has become oversensitive? Is this hypersensitivity a good thing? Send us your comments to email@example.com and we may publish it on the site. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.
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