Friday, September 14, 2012

Advice for Anti-Discrimination Movements

Anti-discrimination movements come with two possible goals:

  1. Stop identified future discrimination
  2. Fixing past transgressions
As a good Jewish boy, I am proud to say that Jews always cared more about stopping future discrimination than payback.  Probably because we've been a minority for so long.   We had a country, lost it to the Romans, but managed to maintain our cultural identity and religion.   Granted, woman have been discriminated against for longer than us, but they were never outnumbered as badly as we were.   Despite this, we demanded rights to enter country clubs, equal treatment in employment, equal treatment in politics, and many other places.  For the most part we achieved our goals.  Oh, there is still some antisemitism, but but it we have had major successes, and aside from moronic "War on Christmas" stuff, there is little 'push back'.

Feminism and anti-racism movements have had much more push back.  By that I mean there are people that claim to be fine with women, but not with feminists, and people fine with black people, but against affirmative action.  In some circles that agree that women should get equal pay for equal work, feminism has a bad name.   Similarly, we are in the rather strange position of having the conservatives shouting for race-blind admissions/hiring in order to stop affirmative action.  It wasn't that long ago that the liberals were clamoring for race-blind admissions/hiring to stop racism.  Isn't our side the one that doesn't care about race?

Part of the problem is that people that have been discriminated against have been treated so incredibly poorly.  They don't just want to cease further discrimination, they want to be fairly compensated for past injuries.  They don't merely want to end discrimination, they want to 'make it right'. 

It can't be done.  No amount of money, no amount of legally mandated compensation can ever make up for past discrimination.

Another issue is that as we end certain prejudicial practices, we find that other indirect discrimination continues, and we try to find ways to stop them.  Some black people live in poverty because their parents were discriminated against.  Some women cut their careers short because they choose to have a child and the fathers don't do the same.  While these problems are indirectly the result of prejudice, they are not directly caused by it.  There are many ways that the race and genders are treated differently, and while sometimes women benefit (compare ticket vs warning records for speed traps), sometimes men do. 

But attempting to stop indirect prejudice doesn't help.  You can't balance things exactly, anymore than you could fix past issues.

Instead, what happens is you just generate push-back.  You see what you consider to be 'just compensation', they consider to be reverse discrimination affecting the children and grandchildren of the people actually responsible for the discrimination.  I'm not saying it is reverse discrimination, I'm saying it feels like that to them.

They feel just as bad about the 'just compensation' as the original race/gender felt about the original discrimination.   This is why I have previously posted against affirmative action but in favor of anti-poverty action.  In a perfect world, we would have affirmative action.   But in this imperfect world, it causes more problems than it solves.  Which is why I think we need to change affirmative action to a race-blind anti-poverty program.  It would stop the push-back from the conservatives, and allow us to do more good.

I generally hate the phrase "get over it'.   It basically means the speaker admits wrongs have been done and they don't care about fixing.  So I'm not going to say it. Instead I am going to go with Bill Clinton's famous words:

"I feel your pain."

I wish we could solve those issues, but we can't - we can only make them worse by perpetuating a culture of hate.   The more we try to demand pay-back, the more they try to undue our righteous actions.  My advice to all anti-discrimination movements of any kind is to forget about trying to make things perfect.  You can't get real payback, as all you get is real push-back.

What you can do is end the current discrimination and ensure the future will be free of more discrimination.  That is the best we can hope for.

Honestly, it's not a bad a goal.   

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