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Posted by on Aug 17, 2012 in Uncategorized | 15 comments

Reverse Discrimination

Do you believe that reverse discrimination is possible? When I was younger, I thought that everything should be judged on its merits, but age has taught me that “merit” is as fluid a concept as one can imagine, and that it hinges on so many other variables as to render it completely meaningless. So I’m curious, how many of you believe that reverse discrimination is both possible and harmful, and if so, under what circumstances? Have you, personally, ever been harmed by reverse discrimination? Have you ever benefited from it? And when, if ever, is diversity more important than merit? When isn’t it?

  • I think that reverse discrimination is both possible and harmful, though I can’t name specific incidents off the top of my head right now – my personal anecdote generator seems to be offline.

    I’m biased in favor of diversity myself, though I think that this should be balanced by merit to the extent it can be defined in principle and practice.

  • I have been skeptical of some diversity initiatives which allow some diversity but restrict others…or happen to put forth ideas about how disagreement is disrespectful and everyone should just ‘live and let live’ because everyone, in some odd postmodern sense, can be right.

    My thoughts on this:

    • I think there is value to encouraging diversity in educational environments and organizations, both in terms of making an active effort to overcome the legacy of historic inequality (which is still *very* much with us) and to make organizations less demographically homogenous, with all the stultifying effects that homogenous “old boys” networks have.

      That said, I loathe when racial/sexual/etc diversity is cynically used as a club to beat down intellectual and ideological diversity. Look no further than the rhetoric coming from the “atheist plus” people, as the ultrafeminists in the atheist community are now calling themselves.

  • I tend to think that there are times when diversity is paramount, and that so-called reverse discrimination, at least in scholastic and employment settings, is rarely a choice between competence and incompetence. Usually, we’re looking at marginal differences in test scores and scholastic performance, at worst. When that’s the case, then diversity and equality of representation (rather than opportunity) seems to be the best approach. On the other hand, I’m not sure this is entirely possible when it comes to positions requiring a certain degree of physical strength, where men are likely to have a distinct advantage. This type of inequality would, in my opinion, be best combated by putting equal economic value on typically feminine and typically masculine traits, regardless of the gender of the person possessing them.

  • Michael Michalchik

    The heart of discrimination is prejudice. That is prejudging a person just because they are a member of a group. No one could reasonably deny that saying, black people are on average poorer and women on average are worse at advanced math than men is factually false, but you have to be a fool with a closed heart to look at a woman and say, “that person is bad at math she can never be a scientist” or “that man is poor so he is only in this store to rob it or waste our time”

    We must look at individuals to transcend prejudice, and so long as a individuals are forced into a group by our preconceptions there is a discrimination. When you prejudge that a person is privileged or oblivious to the suffering of others because they are a white male, you are engaging in discrimination plain and simple, no concept of reversal is needed. To imply that it is reversed is to discriminate again.

    Race or gender based quotas, laws or customs are indeed discrimination. Sometimes they are necessary remedies for worse evils but hey are always discrimination and always have all the costs to society associated with institutionalized prejudice.

    The same things can be said about asymmetrical assumptions in sexual consent, decisions to have a child, child custody, domesticate violence, the draft, medical research dollars, social attitudes towards stay at home parents, moving furniture, imprisonment, prison rape, rape shield laws, the draft etc…

    Am I saying that white men have it worse than everybody or even anybody else? No. I have no idea who has it worst and I think it is a stupid and dangerous game to play. The people who win that fight are generally the most socially powerful group instead of the least.

    Prejudice and subsequent discrimination are horrible problems but at the root of the problem is identity politics that keeps forcing us top say; judge this person by their minority status. The lie says it is ever OK to judge a person by their group and set standards of justice and opportunity accordingly.

  • Peter Lobell

    hmmm … I think that reverse discrimination is both possible and real. The impulse in law has generally been to right some previous wrong, but “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I have mixed feelings about implementing any systematic prejudice. Unfortunately there are not always good options in the real world.
    Personally I have never been subjected to reverse discrimination (that I’m aware of), but if I had been and had been aware, I would probably have let it slide in the interest of repairing whatever damage it was meant to repair. I have fought against discrimination in many forms since I was a teenager and have suffered some consequences (beatings, cross burnings, arrest). I have also lived for more than 25 years in Japan, but that’s a different story.

  • Michael Cornett

    I’ve seen it happen, and it’s happened to me. I had a self-styled “feminist” dismiss my concerns and opinions because I was a man and in her view men were automatically stupid misogynists. When I was involved with the wiccan/pagan community, I was the subject of discrimination, told I wasn’t a “real” wiccan because it was a woman’s religion, etc. I caught news of a stir at a pagan gathering when a women-only event was organized, but it also barred trans women as well; it was only open to those born women.

    Naturally, I’ve seen the “regular” discrimination as well, but it’s everywhere. It comes from our inability to see people as individuals and see them only as part of a group, and often that group is The Other and is distrusted and disliked. Some people seem to feel a need to classify someone as The Other and erect barriers and demonize them, and I wonder why.

    • I don’t know ā€“ it seems to me like in the case of women-only, minority-only, trans-only, etc groups there is a role for these in banding together for solidarity against discrimination, in ways that those who aren’t members if underprivileged groups simply can’t contribute to. Unless these groups are in some way exercising social power over others, I can’t really see how it’s any great act of discrimination not to allow members of the more dominant group in.

      Of course, the woman who you were having issues with was making the mistake of equating neopaganism as a whole with her particular “women’s religion”.

  • Dionigi

    In the Uk. reverse discrimination is definately possible. Reverse discrimination is discrimination plain and simple.

    • Jonathan MS Pearce

      Recently, in the area of football (soccer), positive descrimintation has been on the cards with the introduction of the US-derived Rooney rule to promote black candidates for managerial positions. I was very dubious of this as it, in my opinion, is descrimination.

      However, as a consequentialist / moral utilitarian, if it provides a greater good, even if it is acknowledged as being morally dubious, then there can be an argument for it.

      I wrote about this in a piece on my pre-SB blog:

  • Edward Clint

    I object to the term “reverse discrimination”. Nothing about the definition of discrimination permits special ownership by one group, even if it is overwhelmingly the victimized group in a particular time or place.

    Given that discrimination is rooted in arbitrary, primal in group-out group psychology, I take it was clear that any group can be guilty of unethical/immoral/unlawful discrimination and frankly even if no groups existed somehow, people would manufacture new groups and begin discriminating immediately.

    • Reasonably Faithless

      i think the “reverse” bit is more to do with it being one group showing undue favour to the other group. eg an executive consisting of men deliberately hire a woman who may not be the best candidate *because* she is a woman.

      for what it’s worth, i think reverse discrimination is definitely possible. sometimes it might be for the best, but not always.

  • This is one of those areas so-called “social justice” types lay down a pretty hard line and are quick to bite your head off if you don’t tow it. The idea is that marginalized or oppressed groups lack systemic power, hence can’t use positions of privilege against more dominant groups. The extreme form of this line is that minorities can’t be racist, because racism means not only prejudice, but prejudice plus social power.

    To my way of thinking, this framing strikes me as inadequate for a number of reasons. First, the distribution of social power is *way* more complicated than the above model gives credit for. Even acknowledging that there’s a such thing as “male privilege”, it means that men *on average* have more access to wealth, prestige, and social power. It does not mean all men have more power than or power over all women, though some feminists seem to get a lot of mileage out of that simplistic formulation.

    Second, there are many axes of social power, something third-wave feminists with their emphasis on “intersectionality” should (but don’t always) get. Which means an individual belongs to a mix of different groups, some of which may be more marginalized and others with more social power. The example of “radical” firebrand feminist Catherine MacKinnon is illustrative here ā€“ she’s the scion of a powerful Republican political family, somebody who absolutely had all the breaks, and her one area of relative disadvantage is that she happens to be a woman. She’s certainly somebody who’s capable of wielding a great deal of social power, and has used it in a few cases to push some pretty reactionary legislation.

    Now I think that if somebody belongs to a marginalized group but happens to get into a position of power, either through other privileged aspects of their identity, or through simply rising above “average” level of social power for their group, then the possibility of using that in oppressive ways exists, even toward people who might belong to a more-privileged group. Though, as often as not, this takes the form of “horizontal hostility” toward other marginalized groups even lower on the totem pole, rather than turning the tables on the privileged group. Hopefully, of course, most who achieve a position of social power will use it responsibly, but there’s always a subset who will misuse it.

    Like Edward Clint said above, though, I object to the term “reverse discrimination”. If somebody from a marginalized group misuses a position of power, that’s “discrimination” or “racism” or “sexism” period, and not “reverse” anything.

  • FireandIce

    Reverse discrimination (whether reverse sexism, reverse racism etc) DID NOT exist in the past. It was not a thing. Discrimination is discrimination, and is wrong in of itself.

    Those who complained about “reverse racism” were generally people with chips on their shoulder.

    HOWEVER, social justice advocates have re-defined Racism and Sexism to include societal power differentials. This is not a problem, words *are* malleable. BUT if you do this, you have to follow through, and if Prejudice from the powerful to the powerless is X-ism then prejudice from the powerless to the powerful is Reverse X-ism.

    Social justice advocates just created reverse racism!

    It’s stupid, really. There is no need to define racism as (racism+power), nor will it catch on (it’s been a long time and I don’t see the dictionaries changing), nor if it did catch on would it capture the thing that most people oppose (and which should be opposed) which is prejudice itself.

  • francis

    Sorry but reverse discrimination is a real and serious problem in the UK and EU and our politicians will not address the problem. Things got worse when these students received either disproportionate amount of support and/or had their assignments and/or exam results scaled up to make them look as good as ‘white’ students. I have confirmed with some lecturerers that this remains an ongoing solution to so called inequality.

    White people are treated like dirt and our governments keep on pandering to ethnic minorities. It will never go away.