Why Don’t People Know What Discrimination Is?

Definition-of-DiscriminationI’ve been a part of a long-running discussion on discrimination this week and I’m surprised how many people either don’t understand what the term means, or are all too willing to simply make exceptions for their favored groups.

I’ll go ahead and spell this out as easily as I can.  If you take race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, indeed anything about the individual’s look, background or preferences, into account in hiring, firing, promotion, membership, grading, scholarships, etc., then you are being discriminatory.  It doesn’t matter how you rationalize it, it’s still true.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s illegal to do, or even necessarily wrong to do, it’s still discrimination.  I doubt many people would disagree with the policy that only allows girls to join the Girl Scouts.  It’s still discriminatory.  The same with the Boy Scouts, although they’re traditionally more discriminatory on a lot more factors.  I have no problem with the Boy Scouts being restricted to boys and the Girl Scouts being restricted to girls, or the YMCA being restricted to men and the YWCA restricted to women, so long as these are private organizations that do not receive government money or preferential treatment.

The problem is, a lot of people seem to think that the only people who can discriminate are white males and everyone else can do whatever they want, but you can never call them racists or sexists or whatever.  The idea that “these people were victimized in the past so now, they get to victimize other people” is idiotic.  If discrimination was wrong when group A did it, it’s still wrong when group B does it, whether they were the victims of group A’s discrimination or not.  You cannot solve a wrong by committing another wrong and it doesn’t matter what that wrong is.  Affirmative action programs are wrong.  They artificially require that people from a once-discriminated-against class get extra rights and privileges so that they can achieve equity.  It sets up quotas and confuses the equality of opportunity with the equality of outcome.  Here’s a newsflash for people, 100% equal outcome is a logical impossibility unless you’re going to have someone standing there with a clipboard rejecting people for not fitting the necessary mix of social factors.  Black?  Check!  Female?  Check!  Not handicapped… ahem… handicapable?  Bzzzt, go somewhere else, you don’t fit the profile.  Next!

While it should be really obvious that this kind of thing doesn’t work, there are a lot of people who cling to the absurd idea that it’s the only thing they ought to support.  They don’t allow for people to self-select what they want to do.  More men than women are drawn to work in some of the hard sciences.  This is a fact.  It may be genetic, it may be cultural, but it is undeniably true.  Why would we want to force women into a field of study that they have no interest in studying, just to make the numbers artificially equal?  By the same token, more women then men take to hobbies like needlework and scrapbooking.  Do we have to round up men and force them to engage in these hobbies so everything is equal?

Where does it end?  Do we task the TSA, while they’re groping your genitals, with making sure that every flight has the correct mix of race, religion, gender and preference?  “We have room for 2 more people on this flight, they must be gay, half-black, half-eskimo, left-handed and one has to limp.  We’re not leaving until we find those people!”

Is this really the kind of world we want to live in?  Just when are people going to recognize the absurdity of discrimination on any scale?  We can do better and we should.

4 thoughts on “Why Don’t People Know What Discrimination Is?”

  1. What's presented here is a simplistic caricature of Affirmative Action. It's not primarily about making sure that an institution is a representative microcosm of society, but more about providing a counter-balance to societal discrimination. So knowing (for example) that there are more young black men in prison than in college, and that children of college graduates are more likely to go to college themselves (and children of prisoners to prison), some colleges have decided that the greater hurdles faced by young black men trying to go to college have to be taken into account. Is there a perfectly fair way to do this? Probably not. But it doesn't mean colleges (or other institution) should stick to a grades-only system that inevitably favours certain sections of society.
    Similarly, with women in the sciences (and other subjects), it's not about making sure that everything is 50/50 all the time. The ideal is to simply not pay any attention to gender. But who can do that?! Girls are turned off certain subjects at every level, from elementary school and up. At each stage, casual or insitutionalised sexism means some girls and women give up. At higher levels, women are a clear minority. So, if selecting, say an advisory panel made up of ten senior scientists, should gender be taken into account? You can ignore it and hope that women are at least treated fairly in the selection process. You can deliberately and scrupulously avoid taking gender into account, and if you're successful, will end up with a panel representative of the gender imbalance at high levels in science. Or you can decide that a certain minimum number of panelists need to be women, and take advantage of the obvious fact that as those women have had to fight damn hard to get where they are, they're probably better than average.
    We don't live in an equal society and pretending that we do is irrational. Countering inequality sometimes means more than simply telling people not to be sexist or racist.

    1. Yes, there may be more black men in prison than in college. Is this a societal problem or is it a black cultural problem? Society isn't rounding up black men on the street and sticking them in prison because they're black, but because statistically, black men commit more crimes than other groups. Likewise, especially in the inner city, blacks drop out of high school at a much higher rate than other racial groups. This says nothing about the race itself but it says volumes about the sub-culture that many in that racial group cling to. Society isn't doing this to them, they are doing it to themselves. Black men, and I don't know why we're focusing only on them, who do not fall into the ghetto cultural traps, who do go to school, do get good grades, do avoid the numerous pitfalls such as gang involvement, fathering illegitimate children, not committing crimes, etc. have the same chances as any other group of getting into a college of their choice. Lots of people claim that there is institutional racism or sexism but are never able to demonstrate it without pointing to inequalities in the workforce, but they never demonstrate that those inequalities come from anything but the individuals themselves. They are convinced that there ought to be numerical equality but don't take into account self-selection pressures. The only society we don't live in and will never live in is one in which numerical equality exists across the board. You'd have to demonstrate that there is any sort of systemic racial or gender-based discrimination going on and let's face it, you an I both know you can't do that. You can only claim it exists. I find it funny that the same people who claim they want to live in a color-blind or gender-blind society are the only ones who spend all their time looking at race and gender. Everyone else has pretty much moved on.

      1. Let's pretend that all you say is true, that black people – having had full human rights for almost two generations – are entirely responsible for their own problems, and that "black culture" is somehow separate from "society". So we've found someone to blame. When a black teenager from a poor neighbourhood gets convicted of some minor drug offence, gets sent to prison and becomes a career criminal, it's their own fault. Or their parents' fault. Or black culture. The important thing is that it's not *our* fault; it's not white people's fault.
        So great, now that we've absolved ourselves of blame, what next? Do we ignore the problem? We – honest hard-working well-educated white people – have to pay taxes to keep all those black people in prison, and to pay for all the extra policing and legal system required to get them to prison, and we have to pay higher insurance premiums because of the property damage caused by their crimes, and we have to spend money on alarms and fences and security services to avoid being a victim of their crimes.
        So if we can't avoid the problem, is there anything we can do to help solve it? Black people turn to crime – not because they're black, but because they're poor. And although we're pretending that none of that is due to slavery, or Jim Crow laws, or institutional or casual racism, it's still a reality. And poor people don't send their children for piano lessons, or math tutorials. Their children don't spend their summers in camp; they may have to work after school when they should be studying. Poor parents may not have the time or education to help their children with their homework. And all these things make it harder for poor children to get an education, and hence to escape the cycle of poverty. So is it worthwhile offering a leg up to those children who are trying to get an education, or are you happy to blame them for being born black?

        1. But we already do offer them a leg up and they, by and large, throw it back in our faces. How long do we have to offer them a leg up before it's painfully obvious that they're not going to take it? In many big inner city ghettos, more than 50% of kids drop out of high school. The overwhelming majority of people are on government assistance. They are not required to do anything to get that assistance. They do not have to improve themselves, they do not have to become educated, they don't have to do any kind of meaningful work, they just have their hands out. Every time anyone suggests that we actually require people on welfare to do something to earn it, or do something to improve their lot in life, you get tons of whiny liberal advocates for the poor coming out of the woodwork saying we have no right to ask anything of them at all, *sob* discrimination *wah* unfair *boo hoo* racism. It's like a lot of liberals want to keep them poor and addicted to government largesse.

          The poor have opportunities that they refuse to avail themselves to. Life isn't fair and people are responsible for their own actions or lack thereof. Poor whites and poor hispanics and poor asians manage to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and get out of the ghetto all the time. Nobody looks down on them for doing it. If blacks try to do the same thing, they get called race traitors and Uncle Toms. Success for blacks in this country is seen as a bad thing by the black community. Lots of them say they want it but they don't want to work for it. Unfortunately, lots of blacks are among the worst racists out there too, which is an even bigger problem. They're also entitlement happy. They think that because of slavery, they deserve money. Sorry, get over it. It's like the Jews playing the Holocaust card. That ought to carry zero weight. It's time everyone stopped living in the past and started dealing with the present reality. That present reality is that a lot of people are screwing up their own lives and expecting the rest of us to pay for it. That cannot be allowed to continue.

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