Let’s Talk About Sensitivity

“Our generation is too sensitive.”

“These snowflakes are just waiting to get offended.”

A common complaint, but it seems as if the sensitivity epidemic that characterizes our generation has only recently reached its worst stage. Why the sudden boom in the hypersensitive and easily-offended club?

The most basic reason would be that we, as a society, have progressed from the days of silent toleration of subtle discrimination. No longer are we afraid to tackle microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and sneaky sexist language. After all, the dictionary defines sensitivity as “the quality of being aware of and understanding the feelings of other people.”

This recent development reflects our growth, our willingness to act emotionally mature towards others’ struggles. Together, we have learned that lighthearted slurs are slurs nevertheless and that they signify much more than their outwardly connotations. For example, the racial slur ch*nk isn’t just a word or joke— it’s a term that embodies the condescending stares, the mocking “ni-haos,” and the pain of living in a discriminatory society. Sensitivity is precisely what has fueled the realization that such subtle prejudices embedded in language and culture can cause pain that is just as tangible and detrimental as the pain we feel from flagrant exclusion. Thanks to sensitivity, people are  beginning to challenge conversational slurs that were brushed off as “just jokes” in the past. If it is molding our culture to be more aware of inconspicuous marginalization, is it truly fair to argue that being sensitive is all that bad?

Given the miracles that sensitivity has gifted us with, the fact that this quality is being characterized as irrational hyperbolic response is concerning, to say the least. The stigmatization of sensitivity often results in minorities keeping their insecurities to themselves in fear that they will be viewed as thin-skinned. Yes, this shuts down open dialogue.

But more importantly, it causes minorities to feel guilty about events that genuinely bother them. These insecurities are not merely thoughts from an overly sensitive mind; they are rooted in countless years of institutionalized inequality. It is inconsiderate to ridicule these sentiments because it ignores centuries of discrimination, both implicit and explicit, that has led minorities to react against a minute remark. When we pretend that we are unaffected by comments that we have every right to be upset about, we normalize casual injustice a habit that is toxic to the progression and psychology of the minority community.

One’s level of sensitivity should not be a weakness or an “annoying aspect” about one’s self. Everyone has different tolerance levels and feels uncomfortable at different points: what one person thinks is hysterical may offend another’s entire being. My friend’s acceptance of a minor sexist joke does not delegitimize my anger towards it. Minorities have the right to unapologetically express their thoughts, because it is they who have been silenced, not the oppressors.

This is not to say that the only voices that matter are those of marginalized groups. However, it is logical for their voices to carry the most weight in our conversations about social justice, as no other group will be able to understand the experience of first-handedly toiling through a system designed to keep them at the bottom. Their thoughts are valid.

cultural approp
Image: Medium

“We can’t apply sensitive issues like cultural appropriation to every single minor incident that comes up. There’s no reason why an innocent seven-year-old child dressed up like Moana for Halloween should be bashed for disrespecting islander culture.” – Sujin Park (‘20)

Of course, there is a line where it becomes blatantly unreasonable to get offended, like accusing a child of cultural appropriation for wearing a Disney costume. But the line is blurry, and also a slippery slope. Once we start to support a culture that humiliates these kinds of actions, it quickly spreads to the point where we equate every kind of sensitivityeven the authentic kindswith irrationality. It acts as a hurdle that derails us from the path of progressa path we have only just begun to traverse after centuries of tireless fighting. Where we should draw the line is something I alone cannot definitively answer, but as we navigate through the boundaries, let us remember that considerate discussion, not ridicule, is the way to go.

When we feel uncomfortable, we must be able to call it out without the worry of ruining the atmosphere or being a debbie downer. Sometimes, sensitive snowflakes aren’t being childish or immature, but rather human beings with emotions that are simply a little more fragile than normal.

– Janie Do (‘20)

Featured Image: Hannah Kim (’19)

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