In response to last week’s post about tearing down statues, Misha Burnett pointed out that positive discrimination denies white males jobs, grants, and other things they are qualified for. And I agree totally with his unstated assumption that it isn’t fair to punish white males for the actions of their ancestors, in the same way that it isn’t fair that entire families are locked up because one member speaks out against the glorious leader.
However, I also see the merit in the assumption behind positive discrimination: that if generations of, for example, African Americans have been in a worst economic position due to racism, then overcoming that requires giving the current generation a countervailing advantage. Or to put it another way, if one child hasn’t eaten today and another hasn’t eaten this week, you give more of the sandwich to the child who hasn’t eaten for days.
Of course, that isn’t fair to the child who hasn’t eaten today. We’re trapped punishing one or the other for something that isn’t their fault.
Except we aren’t. You’re thinking about how you’d divide up the sandwich because I told you how to divide up a sandwich. Pull back the mental camera: there isn’t just one sandwich, there are lots of sandwiches. And lots of other food. Most of it is just on one table rather than free to distribute.
Giving a hand up to the oppressed isn’t irreconcilable with offering a fair opportunity to those who, through no fault of their own, were born white (or male); however, it can look that way because tacit (and not so tacit) pseudo-aristocracies have thrown one of yesterday’s stale sandwiches into the arena and whispered “let’s you and him fight”.
Money can be a useful tool: I certainly wouldn’t want to have to do complex barters with physical products every time I shopped. Capitalism-as-a-concept might not require unethical behaviour. But the current real-world politico-economic structure is unfair, unfair to black and white, unfair to male and female, unfair to almost everyone.