Diversity Makes Me Poop My Pants!

In yet another round of Your Lack of Equality Doesn't Make Me Mad, But Attempts to Rectify the Situation Do, Time blogger Mark Halperin front-pages the link to his take on the impending SCOTUS nomination, owing to Justice Souter's impending retirement, with a stock photo image of a white man and the headline "White Men Need Not Apply."

Har har! See, because our stupid black liberal president is probably going to get all P.C. and shit by nominating a brown-skinned broad as part of an attempt to remedy the hundreds of years of almost exclusively white men deciding important national legal precedent for the whole nation. And that's totally something to make fun of because, err, because—POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS TEH STOOPID!

Let's do this again, shall we?

It shouldn't matter, in terms of having every American citizen's needs and issues fairly addressed, what the percentage of women and/or people of color and/or LGBTQIs and/or people with disabilities in government positions is, but it does. It even makes a difference whether male legislators have daughters. It always matters, because, unfortunately, we live in a very lopsided and still largely segregated culture, where a white person, for example, can go their entire lives never having to know a person of color on a personal level. That situation inevitably begets ignorance, which can manifest in overtly malicious expressions of bigtory or unintentional (but not innocuous) offense.

Diversity benefits not just the marginalized, but also people of privilege, by providing them with opportunities to expand their understanding of others. When considering legislation to fund women-centered medical research, a Congressman who sits beside a colleague who is a breast cancer survivor every day, and has heard her firsthand accounts of her treatment options (and, perhaps, lack of options), is more likely to have a personal investment in pushing through the bill than a Congressman who only regards breast cancer as "bad" in an abstract way. An appellate court judge whose colleague is openly gay is more likely to reject gay panic defenses. That's just the way humans work.

There is an understandable knee-jerk negative reaction among some straight, white men to the complaint about any group being primarily straight, white, and male. I've known men who were bitter about what they perceived as the "guilt" they were expected to feel, or were angry that such complaints (or celebrations of increased participation of women, minorities, gays) somehow assailed their intrinsic characteristics. And I get that—I really do. But that's not the point. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with being white, or straight, or male. What's wrong is the cultural preference that has conferred privilege upon those characteristics—a privilege from which anyone who falls into any of those categories benefits.

When having been charged with hiring employees at previous jobs, I never discriminated on the basis of race (or anything else), but when I have applied for jobs, and been hired, I might have benefited, even unbeknownst to me, from being white. That's what privilege is really about—not just what you choose to do with it, but what others choose to do with it, and how their decisions might work in your favor.

And against other, non-privileged people's interests.

It's not enough to just "not be racist" oneself, because one may still benefit from the racism of others so long as it's endemic to our society. So, the argument for the breaking of a straight, white male tradition in any venue is not born of hostility to straight people, or whites, or males, nor of "self-loathing" or "liberal guilt" or "political correctness run amok," but of hostility toward undeserved privilege and of the knowledge that people are naturally self-interested, and likely to remain so unless they are forcibly exposed to people who are different than they are.

Finding a problem with disproportionately white male representation doesn't make women man-haters or men self-loathing; it doesn't make people of color racists or whites self-loathing; it's simply a recognition that most white men, because of our culture, aren't compelled to familiarize themselves with many of the issues that women and/or people of color face. Privilege is, in its rawest form, the ability to live one's life without ever having to interact in a myriad of meaningful ways with The Other.

The flipside of that imbalance is that, just by virtue of its dominance, the issues and experiences and language and culture of any privileged group are well-known to the non-privileged, because that culture is inescapable. We live in it, too—we just experience it from a place of denial rather than access.

Charges of political correctness are little more than an attempt to mask precisely this reality: If women move in a male-dominated world, and people of color move in a white dominated world, and queers move in a straight, binary-sexed, cisgender world, and straight, white men move in that world, too, and rarely venture into the sub-cultures or explore the intersectionalities of the marginalized without external pressure or guidance, how can it possibly be that straight, white men are de facto the best prepared to represent us all?

The one thing privilege doesn't freely give a person is insight.

Keep that idea close. As Dana says over at TAPPED: "[Despite so many eminently qualified women of all races], we should expect a whole lot more of this as the nomination process gets underway." Put on your seatbelts, Shakers. Here we go.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus