The Meritocracy Myth

The Meritocracy Myth I’ve been mulling over a few subjects that have been making appearances on my site as of late. The subjects are white privilege and the meritocracy myth a.k.a. “pull yourself up by the bootstraps and inequality vanishes as soon as the laces are tied.”

I’ve written about white privilege and the meritocracy myth before but I feel that I need to add a few more bits of content.

I’d like to thank Dennis at Rhetorical Wasteland for spurring me on to continue to post about the same thing…over and over again.

In addition to D’s encouragement, I received this comment/email today (which actually encouraged me to create this post):

…yes, I am white, and no nothing was given to me. The scholarships I had in college – academic (i.e., merit-based) based, not because they were promised to white people. The grades I earned – because of hard work, not because the professor favored white people. The job I hold now, I earned because of my experience and background, not because I am white.

…And if you do not believe in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, then perhaps you should more attention to the people who have achieved success in this country by their own hard work.

pull yourself up by your bootstraps

In response to that sentiment, I present the following comic, excerpts and links regarding the meritocracy myth…

Bootstraps and the meritocracy myth

From the Meritocracy Myth:

According to the ideology of the American Dream, America is the land of limitless opportunity in which individuals can go as far as their own merit takes them. According to this ideology, you get out of the system what you put into it. Getting ahead is ostensibly based on individual merit, which is generally viewed as a combination of factors including innate abilities, working hard, having the right attitude, and having high moral character and integrity. Americans not only tend to think that is how the system should work, but most Americans also think that is how the system does work (Huber and Form 1973, Kluegel and Smith 1986, Ladd 1994).

In our book The Meritocracy Myth (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), we challenge the validity of these commonly held assertions, by arguing that there is a gap between how people think the system works and how the system actually does work. We refer to this gap as “the meritocracy myth,” or the myth that the system distributes resources—especially wealth and income—according to the merit of individuals. We challenge this assertion in two ways. First, we suggest that while merit does indeed affect who ends up with what, the impact of merit on economic outcomes is vastly overestimated by the ideology of the American Dream. Second, we identify a variety of nonmerit factors that suppress, neutralize, or even negate the effects of merit and create barriers to individual mobility. We summarize these arguments below. First, however, we take a brief look at what is at stake. That is, what is up for grabs in the race to get ahead?

and

The most obvious and widely recognized nonmerit barrier to achievement is discrimination. Discrimination not only suppresses merit; it is the antithesis of merit. Race and sex discrimination have been the most pervasive forms of discrimination in America. The good news is that such discrimination is declining. The bad news is that these forms of discrimination are down but not out. Besides ongoing discrimination, there are still inertial effects of past discrimination that create disadvantage in the present. The divisive debate over affirmative action in America highlights the continuing disagreements about the size and importance of these residual effects and how to best to address them. (via Sociation Today: The Official Journal of The North Carolina Sociological Association.)

Oh, and I found this over at the Minnesota Law Review:

The Meritocracy Myth and the Illusion of Equal Employment Opportunity

Aggregate workplace data reveals that upward mobility in the United States job market still is largely limited by both a person’s race and sex. White men comprise approximately 43% of the U.S. work force. Yet, 97% of senior managers at Fortune 1000 industrial and Fortune 500 service firms are white, and between 95% and 97% of senior managers of Fortune 1500 firms are male. Moreover, of the 3-5% of senior management positions occupied by women, a mere 5% are held by racial minorities. Despite these facts, the dominant story about employment opportunity in the United States today is that the barriers to progress are gone. Americans believe that employers have dismantled the impediments to workplace opportunity. Jobs are no longer overtly segregated by race or sex, and discrimination, if it exists, is an anomaly.

In this Article, Professor Anne Lawton argues that the meritocracy myth, with its emphasis on individual talent and effort, accounts for this discrepancy between American beliefs about opportunity and the reality of the American workplace. The meritocracy myth is comprised of two interconnected assumptions: (1) employment discrimination is an anomaly; and (2) merit alone determines employment success. Increasingly, these assumptions about employment opportunity and merit are driving federal court decisions in employment discrimination cases. An analysis of recent disparate treatment cases involving challenges to hiring, promotion, or discharge decisions, based on race, sex, race and sex, or retaliation, reveals that many federal courts adhere to a narrow and outmoded conception of discrimination as overt, negative, and conscious bias. Because many federal courts fail to recognize that discrimination now manifests itself in more subtle ways, they often grant summary judgment to employers because plaintiffs have not offered evidence that conforms to the courts’ model of traditional prejudice. By doing so, these courts reflect and reinforce cultural beliefs central to the meritocracy myth and make it increasingly difficult for plaintiffs to prevail on the merits in disparate treatment cases.

  • FinanceBuzz

    I will concede that the statistics on management in the Fortune 1000 and 1500 give pause. I certainly have no problem in putting people in a position where they can succeed, where they have that opportunity to realize the American Dream (which is by no means a myth – there are simply far too many stories of success of varying magnitude in this country for this to be a myth). However, that assistance cannot infringe upon the rights of others. I do not deny that we have a history where oppression of certain groups of people took place. To suggest otherwise would be ignorant of our past. However, in attempting to remedy those wrongs, how is it fair to limit opportunities for individuals that played no role and share no guilt for the actions of decades past?

    If someone is denied a job so that a company can hire someone of a protected class who hypothetically is not as qualified, how is that fair? That “privileged” person did partake in the oppression of the 1930s, 1940s, etc. Even if that person has garnered some benefits (for the sake argument as I think the magnitude of these benefits is not as great as the concept of “white privilege” would have you believe), that person bears no guilt. As such, it is unfair, in fact un-American in my opinion, to punish someone for actions they did not take. The past is the past. If there are ways that we can remedy past wrongs without infringing upon the rights and lives of the not guilty, that is fine. However, if not, we have to play the hand we have been dealt. That is just life. I still firmly believe that with hard work and determination, almost anyone in this country can better their lot in life, better position their children and grandchildren for more successful lives.

  • FB, here’s a problem:

    If someone is denied a job so that a company can hire someone of a protected class who hypothetically is not as qualified, how is that fair?

    Affirmative Action, at least the kind ever sanctioned by the government, was never as you describe. Instead, it asked for the choosing of a person of color when the two candidates were equal in all other respects.

    The cognitive dissonance is astounding: The social programs that do exist to benefit people of color are about the mildest, meekest things I can imagine, yet FB pretends they are a great injustice.

    Let’s play a little compare and contrast. What is fairer – having the option (or even being required) to pick the candidate of color when the two are equal, or the U.S. government placing a special tax on white people that goes towards people of color as renumeration for the way white people treated everyone else since the U.S. was founded?

    Stepping back for a second, I get the impression FB is unaware that there exists a giant literature on things like hiring discrimination based on race and/or sex. Eric isn’t talking out of his butt here; for many professionals, especially sociologists, this information is not at all controversial.

  • Eric, thank you for this post. The comment you quote prompted me consider a lot: …yes, I am white, and no nothing was given to me. The scholarships I had in college – academic (i.e., merit-based) based, not because they were promised to white people. The grades I earned – because of hard work, not because the professor favored white people. The job I hold now, I earned because of my experience and background, not because I am white.

    I don’t know this person’s lived experience, but it sounds pretty similar to mine. I earned a National Merit Scholarship because of a test score (though other things went into it, like my grades and high school activities) that gave me a full ride to school. I worked hard in college (pulling a 3.79, graduating with two degrees in four years). I got a job teaching middle school, then two great assistantships — one teaching first-year writing, the other working in Writing Across the Curriculum — and I am up for another great position next year (which I might get). Certainly I put a lot of hard work into this, especially considering I grew up in the third poorest county in Iowa, on a farm, with little money. I made as much in nine months as a teaching assistant as my mother makes in a year cooking in a nursing home.

    I certainly could read this as a “pull myself up by the bootstraps” story. It’s quite easy, and many others do it. However, this ignores a lot that went into my success that I had little to do with. First is that I was fortunate enough to live in a school district that provided me with a decent education and a lot of support. While my school wasn’t as privileged as others, I can’t ignore that it fares far better than schools in impoverished black neighborhoods, which have historically and currently been segregated from more upscale white neighborhoods. The test I scored well on, the PSAT, is, as studies show, culturally biased so that people who have certain cultural heritage (mainly, mainstream white) are more apt to have the background schemas to understand the implied subtexts of the questions.

    Privileges have been granted to me not solely because of my ability and hard work, but also because I was born into certain economical and racial situations: namely, I was born white in a working-to-middle class environment. I also have the luxury of being male, which is a luxury in our society only because we ascribe so much power and authority to it — which I know is the case when I talk to women in similar positions who have to deal with not being as trusted as I am, not being given the authority I am. I know this has nothing to do with ability or hard work, because these women are as capable and hard working as I am, yet are categorically treated differently because of their social status as women.

    A problem with the way we often conceive of race and gender issues is that we should feel “guilty” about it and that it’s something that happened in the past. First, it is still happening today, just not as blatantly. Second, “guilt” over the “sins” of my ancestors won’t do any good, and people are right in that we are not responsible for the mistakes of our ancestors. However, we are responsible for unearned privilege, not because of guilt, but because we have a responsibility to a just and better society. It is our duty (I speak as a white middle class man) to, depending on the situation, give up our unearned privilege in order to create justice, or to use our unearned privilege to advocate for change.

    Thanks for this post, Eric.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Let’s play a little compare and contrast. What is fairer – having the option (or even being required) to pick the candidate of color when the two are equal, or the U.S. government placing a special tax on white people that goes towards people of color as renumeration for the way white people treated everyone else since the U.S. was founded?

    Anytime the government favors one group over another because anything other than their own, individual merit, it is unfair in my opinion. So if a person of color and a white person are equal, should the white person always get the short end of the decision? Is that fair to effectively say that white people have to meet a higher standard to get selected? Granted, the circumstances where all else is equal are going to be rare because there could well be non-deterministic factors such as “fit” that will come into play. However, the push for government favoritism for anyone when it comes at the expense of others is not appropriate in my opinion. The same goes for the tax concept. I again ask you, what is my personal culpability in the acts of the past? As there is no direct culpability, why should I be taxed or be denied opportunity when I have done no harm or have not discriminated against anyone? That is the question for which I would like to see some justification.

  • FinanceBuzz

    MIchael,

    However, we are responsible for unearned privilege, not because of guilt, but because we have a responsibility to a just and better society. It is our duty (I speak as a white middle class man) to, depending on the situation, give up our unearned privilege in order to create justice, or to use our unearned privilege to advocate for change.

    I will say that I do admire you for putting your “money where your mouth is.” However, I refuse to give up anything I have achieved out of some form of guilt I should feel when I have not personally done anything to impede the success of others. This is not to say that I do not have concern for justice and those that may be less fortunate. My parents never went to college, my grandparents never went to college. However, when my sister finishes her second bachelor’s that she is current working on, we would both have together four college degrees, including a masters degree, all from fairly well respected schools. We did not come from a privileged background. My dad had a blue collar job and never even finished high school. But they were responsible parents and placed family first and worked hard to provide for us. They made the most of what they had and tried to make wise decisions. This is not to say that all people who find themselves in tough positions in life find themselves as such because of only poor decisions. However, the point I am trying to make is that I fail to see this huge amount of privilege that I had.

    I did well on the SAT, not because of some subliminal “cultural bias” but because I could think through the questions and complete the math problems and because I could comprehend the English language and associated questions. I am given respect because of my actions and competency on my job. One of our finest employees who rose quickly in position was a woman and she was respected, gender not withstanding. Yes, I was born into the middle class but life is such that not everyone will be given the same set of initial conditions and we have to work with those.

    As I have said before, I feel it comes down to an individualistic identity not a group identity. That is one area in which I differ with many on the left. They seem to deemphasize the individual in favor of the group. However, I think that the downside of this is being shown in this discussion. The success of people is being questions because of which group they belong to as opposed to being considered based upon the factors pertinent to their particular situation.

  • radar

    FinanceBuzz:

    Don’t you get it? Who cares about your background, your socioeconomic class, your parents’ educations, or your own individual achievements?

    You’re white – and that’s all that matters.

    Oh, and I hope you are ok with using your real name. If you post here too many times Eric is bound to try and find out who you are. And then close comments for the post. Just a heads-up!

  • Luke

    Two things from FB’s comment (related to the entire post in general):

    “The past is the past. If there are ways that we can remedy past wrongs without infringing upon the rights and lives of the not guilty, that is fine. However, if not, we have to play the hand we have been dealt. That is just life.”

    I see a lot of (white) folks running towards Divine Intervention (perhaps a form of force majeure?) to explain the circumstances of our lives. As if we are born with equally sized pots of poker chips and a mysterious “hand” moves them around randomly (sounds a lot like determining how many hit dice you start with in D&D, if you ask me).

    Then we take FB’s next interesting comment:

    “I still firmly believe that with hard work and determination, almost anyone in this country can better their lot in life, better position their children and grandchildren for more successful lives.”

    Ah, so here we have a contradictory statement about how we are set up in life. On the one hand, a mysterious hand somehow deals certain people (let’s call them “brown folks”) with a suite of disadvantages and social conditions preventing them from accessing the same opportunities as other people (let’s call them “white folks”). On the other, we can point our fingers towards the past and use our ancestors’ supposed hard work to justify the privileges that we didn’t earn, and gosh darn it you shouldn’t take it away from me because that’s not fair!

    Problematic: forgetting that advantages gained in the past, which still affect the present, were probably obtained to the (unfair) detriment of someone else.

    Let’s take, as a good example of this, the internment and forced relocation of anyone who was of Japanese ancestry from 1942 through 1946 inside “Military Area No. 1,” roughly 200-300 miles from Pacific Ocean (which includes almost all of the highly-productive farmland on the West Coast). Most families were given weeks to sell or store all their possessions (including land, or in places where Asians were legally forbidden from owning land, their tenement). Otherwise, the government would take it from them, with no compensation. Most families lost all their possessions (businesses, farm, books, houses, you name it) because they were unable to secure a place to store them or for people to give them a fair price from people who realized that they could offer very little compensation for people who *had* to sell everything they couldn’t take in a few pieces of luggage.

    You can bet your ass that this affected the future generations of Japanese Americans. From reading and listening to the stories of people who left the camps with nothing – absolutely nothing – who had come from large, productive and valuable farms and businesses, they had to struggle for years to work back towards getting even a fraction of what they had before. Ronald Reagan (of all people) signed legislation in the 1980’s that finally provided $20,000 in compensation to internees who were still alive – this is over 40 years after the camps closed. The legislation also said that the internment was a result of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

    Presumably, the internment of Japanese-Americans affected all their children (and grandchildren, and their children, etc.) up to today, because they had to “start over” because of an incredibly stupid and racist policy, to the detriment of their children. Presumably, the folks who bought the land, businesses, houses, possessions, etc. at rock-bottom prices profited enormously from it, as did their descendants, who were able to go to a better/more expensive school, have money to start a business, etc.

    This is not an anomaly, although the Japanese Internment is perhaps the most visible and extreme pattern of the types of systemic discrimination and oppression that affect groups which are non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-ablebodied, et. al in the United States.

    Which means, this is not a meritocracy.

    It’s an aristocracy.

  • FinanceBuzz

    This is not an anomaly, although the Japanese Internment is perhaps the most visible and extreme pattern of the types of systemic discrimination and oppression that affect groups which are non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-ablebodied, et. al in the United States.

    Luke,

    From the above comment am I to understand that you are, even in a slight manner, comparing the forms of discrimination that remain in our society to the Japanese internment camps? I must have missed the Islamic internment camps, the homosexual internment camps, etc. You are relying on events that are sixty years old to draw a parallel to a much changed society today. This also is another example of the “group mentality” as you seem to imply that all “non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-ablebodied people” are subject to ongoing and “systematic” oppression and discrimination. Please cite some examples of these patterns that afflict the entire group? I do not deny that there are instances out there, but how can this be extrapolated to a vast problem that effects an entire group of people with similar characteristics?

    On the one hand, a mysterious hand somehow deals certain people (let’s call them “brown folks”) with a suite of disadvantages and social conditions preventing them from accessing the same opportunities as other people (let’s call them “white folks”).

    Again, more group perspective that does not hold water when considered analytically. If all of a group are subject to the same set of “initial conditions” (disadvantages for “brown folks” and opportunities for “white folks”) then how does this supposition account for the broad diversity of situations, both economic and social, that members of a given race fall into? There are poor white folks that suffer from the same economic trials as poor brown folks while there are well-to-do brown folks that have similar socio-economic standing as some white folks. Again, the group perspective discounts reality that differs for a cross section of individuals.

    Also, you discuss the possible impact of the Japanese internment camps and the privilege that allegedly resulted from that for non-Japanese. That still fails to answer the question I continue to ask: how is it fair and just that I be deprived of any of my wealth, standing, etc. that I have gained through legal means when I did not personally victimize any group of people? I wish one of you whose perspective comes from the left would please give me a justification for punishing innocent people. You keep talking about the supposed benefits of privilege but you never deal with the impact on people who have not engaged in such detrimental actions.

  • James

    Thanks for the post, Eric! I enjoyed reading (and agree with) your thoughts on this issue. Anyone who believes that there is no equality issue in this country need only walk through the classroom’s of America’s finest universities.

    By the way, love cartoon…It’s going up in my office:)!

  • James

    Oops! Apostrophe abuse alert in my previous post…”Classrooms” is obviously not a possessive.

  • FinanceBuzz

    This is not an anomaly, although the Japanese Internment is perhaps the most visible and extreme pattern of the types of systemic discrimination and oppression that affect groups which are non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-ablebodied, et. al in the United States.

    Luke,

    From the your comment am I to understand that you are, even in a slight manner, comparing the forms of discrimination that remain in our society to the Japanese internment camps? I must have missed the Islamic internment camps, the homosexual internment camps, etc. You are relying on events that are sixty years old to draw a parallel to a much changed society today. This also is another example of the “group mentality” as you seem to imply that all “non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-ablebodied people” are subject to ongoing and “systematic” oppression and discrimination. Please cite some examples of these patterns that afflict the entire group? I do not deny that there are instances out there, but how can this be extrapolated to a vast problem that effects an entire group of people with similar characteristics?

    On the one hand, a mysterious hand somehow deals certain people (let’s call them “brown folks”) with a suite of disadvantages and social conditions preventing them from accessing the same opportunities as other people (let’s call them “white folks”).

    Again, more group perspective that does not hold water when considered analytically. If all of a group are subject to the same set of “initial conditions” (disadvantages for “brown folks” and opportunities for “white folks”) then how does this supposition account for the broad diversity of situations, both economic and social, that members of a given race fall into? There are poor white folks that suffer from the same economic trials as poor brown folks while there are well-to-do brown folks that have similar socio-economic standing as some white folks. Again, the group perspective discounts reality that differs for a cross section of individuals.

    Also, you discuss the possible impact of the Japanese internment camps and the privilege that allegedly resulted from that for non-Japanese. That still fails to answer the question I continue to ask: how is it fair and just that I be deprived of any of my wealth, standing, etc. that I have gained through legal means when I did not personally victimize any group of people? I wish one of you whose perspective comes from the left would please give me a justification for punishing innocent people. You keep talking about the supposed benefits of privilege but you never deal with the impact on people who have not engaged in such detrimental actions.

  • popi.and.tom

    Moreover, our archons have placed
    a nuclear reactor
    at the geographical center
    of the city of Corvallis:

    Nevin, K.S., OSU’s “Nuke” a Local Cause for Concern,
    Corvallis Gazette-Times, 7’3’07.
    http://www.gazettetimes.com/articles/2007/07/03/news/opinion/6edi02_nevin0703.prt

  • FB, you ask Please cite some examples of these patterns that afflict the entire group?

    While I agree with Luke that it is important to understand that past oppressions still manifest themselves today (and that we can’t get a clear picture of how to correct current situations without understanding that), I can easily point out present conditions that are systemic oppressions of groups. It’s important to note, before I do, that just because an oppression is systemic, does not mean it is totalizing – that means, that while everyone in a group may experience the oppression, it does not manifest itself in the same ways for everyone and some people have had the means or opportunities to advance in certain ways in society.

    You ask about non-heterosexual folk. I, for one, didn’t come out as queer until I was 22, and many others share this experience (some not coming out until they are 60, 70, etc.). In fact, it’s pretty hard to come out in our society. Studies estimate that 1/3 of teenage suicides are by queer teenagers, which is astounding if we consider that only 1/10 of a population is usually queer (I am using queer here as an umbrella term for all sorts of non-heterosexual folk). A massive amount of bullying in high schools is waged against queer students or students who are “read” as queer (even if they’re straight). Mass media give large amounts of coverage to queer-eradicating movements which continually demean the dignity of queer folks and deny their right to an existence. Popular jokes in our lived experiences, on television, and in movies are predicated on homophobia. All of this adds up to evidence that now, in our current society, non-heterosexual folk are oppressed. These are not merely individual actions that recur over and over again, but part of a systemic rigor of homophobia. Suicide rates would not be higher amongst queer youth and people would not have problems coming out in the high numbers they do if homophobia was an issue between individuals. And even after coming out, queer folk have to deal with constant threats to their bodies and to their dignity. This is something that a heterosexual person will never have to experience solely because they are heterosexual.

    If we return to the issue of race, we can see systemic racism occurring in many large metropolitan areas where cities and school districts are segregated, not de jure, but de facto. East St. Louis, as Jonathan Kozol makes readily apparent in Savage Inequalities, is a perfect case of this. Schools are run-down, teachers are inexperienced and often leave quickly, the school doesn’t have money to buy up-to-date books, etc. Why is this? Why can’t we fund all schools equally and give all our youth an adequate education? Throughout this country we have impoverished schools (mostly filled with minorities) that are right next to districts with rich schools (mostly filled with white students). Almost every attempt to distribute funding equally across schools is resisted by middle to upper class white folks in these richer districts. I have to ask why. If they believe in a meritocracy, then they would be more than happy to fund all children’s education adequately. Since they aren’t willing to do this, then what’s the logical conclusion. It is, I believe, that they don’t think other children are as worthy as their children for an adequate education, and this worth decision has to be based on either racism or classism (or, I believe, both).

    Education isn’t the only way that people of color are denied equal footing in our society. Mainstream media demeans the dignity of people of color with rampant amounts of racist jokes (the only jokes directed at white people are ones that make fun of “honkies” or “white trash” — the issue in those jokes is class, not race). White people are affirmed as people; people of color are demeaned as people of color. If we look at punishments for crime, white people tend to get shorter sentences than people of color. Even punishments for drugs that are similar drugs are codified differently, with those drugs used by more middle, class white folk getting less penalty than those used by poor people of color.

    We could go further — elections and representation. Why is it that there have only been three people of color in the US Senate since the Civil War? Why is it that there were enough voting machines in rich, white areas of Ohio in 2004, but there were so many voting problems in black neighborhoods in Ohio?

    We could, of course, ignore all these problems as merely individuals demeaning individuals, or individuals discriminating against individuals. But this evidence, combined with so much more evidence, shows that racism is indeed systemic in our country.

    I’m also confused when you say that people (mainly richer, white folks) not engaged in such detrimental actions as domination. This confuses me because these people probably shop at stores that have paid people of color in Asia or Latin America less than a minimum wage. They probably eat food that was shipped here through exploited labor in Latin America. They probably drive a car fueled by oil that was brought here through war, the toppling of governments by the United States, and the murder of many innocent people. They even engage in these activities passively. As a white man, every time I walk into a store and am not thought of as a potential thief, I am relying on the internal and systemic racism that leaves me safe from suspicion but causes my friends who are people of color to be followed or kept a close eye on. When I do not call out these racist assumptions (which I don’t, honestly, because it’s impossible to do it all the time), I am relying on a system of racism that privileges me and demeans others. Am I responsible for the racist activities of others? If by responsible, that means guilty, then no. If by responsible in that I have a duty to end racism, then the answer is yes.

    I am also confused, FB, by your claim that someone wants to “punish” privileged folks. I have never heard anyone on this blog claim to want to punish privileged folks, and the only claims of “punishment” I have ever heard of come from fringe, radical groups who speak out of anger rather than reason and compassion. I have compassion for these folks, because I think they have something to be angry about, but I, nor anyone I know, truly wants to punish those who have privilege. For we almost all have privilege in some way, whether our gender, our ability, our class, our race, or our sexual orientation.

  • Luke

    FB,

    “Please cite some examples of these patterns that afflict the entire group? I do not deny that there are instances out there, but how can this be extrapolated to a vast problem that effects an entire group of people with similar characteristics?”

    Queer folks who are acknowledge their sexuality are subject to ridicule, harassment, assault and death. I have not met any queer person who has ever not been verbally harassed because of their sexuality. I have known several who have been assaulted. I know many who work or have worked in places where they have been ridiculed, denied promotions, or forced out because they are openly queer. The only queer folks I know who manage to avoid this sort of behavior anymore are those who privatize their sexuality and affection so much that they are non-sexual/non-affectional in public. Non-queer folks don’t have to hide their sexuality, and even if you do not want to “flaunt it,” as I hear many non-queer folks say, it doesn’t matter: you have the option of expressing your sexuality and affection in public without fear of assault or death.

    This is not a privilege queers have. I can point to a few locations (a block or two and a few buildings) in major cities where I’d feel absolutely free from assault or harassment for being public about my sexuality and affection – non-queers do not have to think this way. I don’t know if you’ll believe me about this, but this is from my own experience, and the general experience of every queer person I know. This is a system- and group-wide disadvantage. I would suggest reading about the communities of marginalized folks in this country if you’re looking for more examples – this is a well-documented phenomenon. If you would rather choose not to believe me (especially when I speak from the experience of listening to hundreds of queer people telling their stories, in addition to my own), then there is nothing I could ever say or do to convince you otherwise, since you have not stated what your criteria for believability is.

    “…how does this supposition account for the broad diversity of situations, both economic and social, that members of a given race fall into?”

    I can take a look at the situations that the majority are in and extrapolate from there. We cannot point to exception to a general experience and use it to form truths about an entire group of people. It’s a logical flaw. So yes, I agree that there are a multitude of situations we could find where people “buck the trend.” Queer people who are never harassed, incredibly wealthy African Americans working in predominantly white institutions, women who are the CEO’s of companies. But those are not indicative of the situations which queers, African Americans, or women are put under by society. Those exceptions come when folks privatize the things about them which give rise to so much discrimination – queers who are deeply closeted, blacks in white organizations who act white (if this confuses you, ask me), women who act like the aggressive men around them, etc. But the vast majority of queers are harassed for being queer. The vast majority of African Americans really do face economic and social discrimination so tough I can’t entirely imagine it. The vast majority of CEO’s are not women, nor do most women ever have the opportunity to make it to a position where they would even be considered for a CEO position.

    “That still fails to answer the question I continue to ask: how is it fair and just that I be deprived of any of my wealth, standing, etc. that I have gained through legal means when I did not personally victimize any group of people?”

    You state that you are “innocent” with the systems of oppression around you. Really? You don’t ever make jokes about women, queers, immigrants, foreigners, disabled people, the poor – and tell those around you to stop if they do? If you don’t, you’re contributing to the devaluation of those lives – reducing them to jokes. Do you ever buy clothes made in a sweatshop somewhere else? If you do, you’re treating folks as useful only to provide cheap clothes, and not as people who want a fair job, good health, and long life. Do you use oil that comes from a place with a living standard 1/20th of the USA, where life expectancy is a decade (or more) behind ours? If you do, then you’re shortchanging the people in those countries, using them as instruments. You don’t use coal or nuclear power which is mined from Native American land, do you? Most of the Uranium we use (and continue to use) was mined from Native American land, coal is mined by poor workers around the US, at great detriment to the health of the people who live and work there. For that matter, you don’t continue to use land which was illegally taken from Native Americans, do you? Let’s not forget that the majority of the land of this country was not legally purchased.

    The point of that last paragraph is not to promote some sort of guilt trip. Its purpose was to point out that we cannot claim innocence, even about things we do today. There is no magical land we live in that is exempt for racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc. – this is a reality for folks on the margins, which (generally speaking) is an experience few from the majority understand, or even pretend to. Touting our own innocence doesn’t make the problems plaguing our lives any less true or important, and this innocence can only come around as a result of profound ignorance. And if we’re not innocent, then we need to own up to it (I believe this is what folks like to call “personal responsibility” NOT “guilt”) and address it. Yes, this might be difficult. But in the face of calls for justice, it’s what we have to do.

    And again, FB, I’d like to hear how passing down wealth doesn’t turn this country into an aristocracy instead of a meritocracy. And if it’s not a meritocracy, then why even pretend like meritocracy exists? Is it because admitting otherwise is to require us to fundamentally alter our perceptions of ourselves and our country? Maybe we’d have to admit that things aren’t really all that great? And then maybe we’d have to do something to make the country live up to the ideals we think we hold.

  • Amy

    “That still fails to answer the question I continue to ask: how is it fair and just that I be deprived of any of my wealth, standing, etc. that I have gained through legal means when I did not personally victimize any group of people?”

    FB: Yes, you may not have personally done anything overtly discriminatory. That’s great, but it’s not the point. Your unquestioning participation in our legal, economic, and social systems means that you are, unbeknownst to you (until now), gaining privilege at the expense of others. This is because these systems are SET UP to do this, while making it all very nice and legal.

    Another piece of food for thought: The exception proves the rule. Yes, there are brown folks who have achieved wealth and prominence, but they are relatively few. The kinds of discrimination Luke is talking about are not on an individual basis, but on a group basis. This becomes apparent when you look at overall trends rather than individual people.

    As far what is fair and just, I think it depends on your definition of these words. I personally feel a sense of moral responsibility (not guilt, these are different things) to advocate for social justice for all people. I do not want to participate, as a white person, in a system that gives me advantages over others without doing something about it. For me, this means using those advantages to educate.

    I would also like to address your comment, quoted above. Yes, white folks will have less if they choose to share equally, assuming that resources and jobs are finite. To increase the percentage of brown folks in administrative jobs, white folks will hold less of these jobs – that is a reality.

    I now present a challenge to anyone who wants proof of the above arguments: take responsibility for your own learning (and moral decision-making), and do the research yourself. It is not the job of this online forum to prove anything one way or another, only to spark debate. There is plenty of material out there (yes, both good and shoddy) about discrimination, tokenism, etc. in our country. I would suggest beginning with the book Eric suggests in this post: The Meritocracy Myth. See what you think, and seek out more information if you aren’t satisfied. Reading first-hand accounts of people of color is also a great way to learn about their lived experiences.

  • FinanceBuzz

    I am going to try to concisely (or less than concisely as it turned out!) answer Michael, Luke and Amy in one response – I do not want to be sitting here typing all night! :)

    1. The point of making jokes was raised a couple of times. I want to say very clearly and emphatically – I do not support violence or assault of any kind against any person. This is not a question of one’s group – that is a simple expectation that all people should enjoy. However, whether I have or have not made a joke at some group’s expense is immaterial.

    A joke is words. How does a joke deny you any of your rights? You might claim that it denies you dignity or identity. Sorry, but that is not a right. Providing you dignity or affirming your identity requires action on the part of someone else. Thus, how can this be a right when you begin to mandate a manner in which others must act? While making a joke may be rude or inconsiderate, so long as it remains only words, then no one’s rights are violated and, in fact, any effort to restrict the ability of others to make such jokes if they choose, actually restricts their freedom of speech.

    As for being teased or ridiculed, yes I know what that feels like. Growing up in school, even up to high school, I suffered verbal abuse from classmates because of my weight. Fine. They are words and I got over them. The only time that would have been an issue would have been had I been denied access to my education or had my property been damaged or destroyed (and at times actions did approach damage). It was not fun and it hurt. But they are just words. Granted, this may pale in comparison to some of the comments that homosexuals may receive, but again – just words (so long as they are limited to words).

    This will not be a popular comment, but I think it is pertinent to this topic. While you are free to engage in a homosexual lifestyle, anytime you choose to behave in a manner that is at best on the periphery of society’s norms and at worst deviant behavior, you open yourself up to negative commentary and feedback. That is human nature and it is not limited homosexuality. That is not to say it might not be rude behavior, but some of that commentary results from some people standing up for traditional values and dare I say (as I do believe in moral absoluteness based on the Bible) traditional morals. As I have discussed before, this position can be taken without acting to infringe upon basic human rights (because I do not see acceptance and, at times, promotion of certain lifestyles as a right).

    2. Some comments were made regarding the economic situation of residents of other parts of the whole who may be engaged in commerce that produces goods for the U.S. market. The flaw in your logic here is that you are trying to overlay American standards of living on economies that are far removed from the economic standards we enjoy in the United States. What may be gross underpayment of wages in the American labor market may be a more than fair wage in context of the labor market of a developing nation. Again, this does not justify abusive or dangerous working conditions. In fact, I would suggest that many business ventures in developing nations hold the promise of doing far more to improve the economic standing of such a nation. What has done more to improve and establish our comfortable standard of living in the United States? American industry. Look at the economic evolution taking place in India. While we may be nervous about jobs being moved to India, the reality is that the economic development occurring there is astounding. There was an excellent cover story in BusinessWeek a few months back (The Trouble with India (March 19, 2007) that outlined some of the effects that economic investment in the country is having. I know business has its flaws, but overall I trust the free market to improve living conditions far more than I trust government bureaucracy and over-regulation.

    3. There was discussion over my passive participation in privileges in general and the response that should be made to that. First off, I have to reject much of these notions simply because I do not see the large-scale oppression in our society. While racism and discrimination can still be found, it simply is not the large-scale problem that one would think after reading your posts. I read that and wonder what country you are living in. It is not blindness to its existence though I suspect it comes down to perception. The majority of commenters on this blog along with Eric apparently see the world through a prism that highlights any instance of racism/oppression/discrimination and makes it appear larger, more widespread, and more systematic than it actually is. (See my discussion about jokes and other WORDS…that is NOT oppression but rather inconsideration – two very different concepts.)

    I live in an America of hope where I believe that each person should have no avoidable barriers placed in front of their access to opportunity (this recognizes that some initial conditions cannot be overcome in the short term and must be taken as static in many people’s short term lives). I believe that hard work does get rewarded the vast majority of the time. I believe in being color-blind and that in doing so, we decrease the chances that we see others as anything other than just another person. An example came to mind while reading your posts.

    I am a Formula 1 fan and this year there is a young rookie phenom that is leading the points standings at this time. Being that it is Formula 1, most of the coverage is not from the U.S. press and even the U.S. race commentators continue to praise this young man’s amazing abilities. However, in coverage by the U.S. media of the recently held United States Grand Prix, a characteristic of this young man, Lewis Hamilton, was highlighted. This young man happens to be black. I find it ironic that the only place I have really seen his race made an issue is in the U.S. media. Granted we have a history that is very sensitive to racial issues. But the ongoing story this season of Lewis is about his incredible skills as a driver. The fact that he is black is immaterial or a footnote at most. He is a very skilled race car driver, not just a very skilled black race car driver. I have no problem with the media mentioning that he is black as given the comparison I saw made to Tiger Woods, I understand this from a promotion point of view as we are not accustomed to many black race car drivers in the States. But I do think this illustrates that it is possible to see people of different races (in this case, the only black driver in F1) as just a person and not pigeonhole them into a group. For once you group them and categorize them, it more easily enables differentiating and possibly discriminating along the factor of their race. Ironic, that those like yourselves who truly want to see fairness for all and racism and other -isms eliminated may be enabling it and prolonging its existence by the constant approach of seeing everyone as part of a group.

  • Finance Buzz – I have been super busy with work, so I apologize for my tardiness. In fact, I have not yet had the chance to read all of the comments. I read your latest comment and you are correct when you say that:

    “This will not be a popular comment, but I think it is pertinent to this topic.

    While you are free to engage in a homosexual lifestyle, anytime you choose to behave in a manner that is at best on the periphery of society’s norms and at worst deviant behavior, you open yourself up to negative commentary and feedback.”

    For the last time… did you or I choose our heterosexuality?

    I will not allow further comments which speak of homosexuality as a “choice” or “lifestyle.” To speak of the identity of LGBT folks as a choice is complete and utter bullshit. If homosexuality were a choice, do you think LGBT folks would choose to put up with people constantly denigrating them, murdering them because of who they are, or denying them access to services which hetero folks can access (i.e. all of the benefits that come from marriage. I was once married so feel free to ask if you need me to provide the entire list.)

    Why the fuck would people “choose” to put up with assholes constantly pissing on their identity?

    Alright, let’s you and I sit down for a second and recognize that white people belong to a racial group. White folks like you and me keep telling people of color and people in marginalized groups to shut up and look at individual achievement. The problem is that white folks like you and me get heaping amounts of “GROUP” benefits because we belong to the white group and then we have the fucking gall to say that we got where we are because of our individualistic awesomeness.

    The reason there are very few people of color in my home state is because white Iowans physically kept anyone out who was not part of our “group.” Iowa used to be populated by a lot of native folks. Now there are hardly any Native Americans in Iowa. White Iowans have prospered as farmers in Iowa on lands that were STOLEN from native peoples. I went to the University of Northern Iowa, had scholarships, and worked my ass off to get through school. However, none of what I have accomplished TODAY would have been possible without the wealth that my ancestors accumulated on lands that DID NOT BELONG TO THEM! Recognizing that I am where I am at because of the accumulated assets that were GAINED by white people (YES. THAT SAME GROUP THAT WE BOTH BELONG TO WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT.) is part of why I run this blog.

    Do you know why there are hardly any African Americans in rural Iowa or Illinois? It’s because white people (THE GROUP) forced African Americans out of small towns either by FORCE or via THREATS. It does not matter whether or not racist acts are physical or psychological. It messes you up either way. Yes, I can recover from being beaten, but words can damage my psyche and terrify me for years after physical wounds have healed. Magnify that concept to an entire group or groups that have been subjected to injustice for hundreds of years. It’s a cumulative effect. (my apologies if this has been covered in the comments…)

    I blog to try to educate other white people that we cannot make up for the past by trying to ignore that it happened. We make up for past injustice by recognizing that it happened and that it’s still happening. White privilege is a reality for white folks. We cannot run from it or deny its existence because doing so only strengthens this racial hierarchy of oppression.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Eric,

    As I said in another post on another comment, living a homosexual lifestyle is a choice. Perhaps there is no choice in involving what one prefers. Perhaps that preferences come from subconcious aspects of one’s childhood. The source is really not the point. The point is that if one actively lives a homosexual lifestyle (and I really do not know any other term to use for that) then how can it not be a choice? If one enters enters into a relationship with a member of their same sex was that an uncontrolled compulsion or a decision to act upon the desires that they might feel? To suggest that this is not choosing to live as a homosexual is to suggest that you have people that cannot control their own wants and desires and that I do not buy. Ban these comments if you like – it is your blog but I am not being abusive, insulting, rude or anything else. I am offering a different perspective.

    I went to the University of Northern Iowa, had scholarships, and worked my ass off to get through school. However, none of what I have accomplished TODAY would have been possible without the wealth that my ancestors accumulated on lands that DID NOT BELONG TO THEM!

    Nothing you have accomplished can be credited to you? You have two degrees if I am not mistaken, you have a job at a major university that you seem quite pleased to have. You come across as quite intelligent (though liberal! ;) ). None of this can be credited to you? You cannot step back for an instant and say “Perhaps I was setup with a better chance to succeed but I had no choosing of that and I worked my butt off given those circumstances to get what I have and for that aspect of it, I did earn it.” Your line of reasoning seems to suggest to me that white people would have been capable of nothing if they had subjugated other races at points in history. That is is a borderline racist implication (and I try to use that term only when it applies to speaking of the supposed inherent superiority of one race to another).

    I respect your desire to not see further injustices occur and to not forget the past. On that we agree 100%. Where we diverge as I outlined in my previous comment is in what constitutes acts of injustice today.

    Given that you cling to the notion of “white privilege” combined with your comment that you could not have accomplished your current status unless white people acted in oppressive manners in the past, I again ask why are you continuing to partake in your ill-gotten gains? I recall that you just got your new job. Why have you not resigned since you did not earn it? Why don’t you renounce your degrees since you did not earn them? I suspect you won’t and you should not. You have not mentioned the idea of reparation for slavery but based on your comments in your blog, I would not be surprised if you supported that. If you feel there is restitution to paid for these actions that are in the past by other people, I support your right to act individually as such and encourage others to do so. If you do support things like reparation, that is where I would vehemently disagree with an attempt to force consequences on people (through confiscation of personal wealth via taxation) who bear no personal culpability. I would be curious to know your thoughts on reparations and government-forced restitution.

  • radar

    Eric,

    It seems you’ve got a bit of an anger problem. I’ll also assume that you asking a question for the “last time” is without irony since I asked you time and again whether or not it was your intention to cause me to stop blogging, to which you have also refused to answer.

    Finally, is it not queer theory that tells us that sexual orientation and identity is “fluid and changeable”? Is there not some degree of choice presented within the scope of queer theory?

  • radar

    Shoot! I forgot to mention the entire “I will not allow comments” statement that you made. It must be similar to blocking comments on your other post when we apparently were discussing my situation too much. It must be nice to have the “privilege” to block out opinions that you disagree with, especially after claiming falsely to me that “compassion and charity” are what you believe in while still calling what others believe “bullshit” and then referring to them as “assholes.” Nice, Eric. I’m beginning to get a better sense of your personality – without even stalking you on the web!

  • FB, you’ve yet to explain how “actively living a homosexual lifestyle” is different from “actively living a heterosexual lifestyle”. Everything you’ve said on the matter applies to heterosexuality as well, so are you willing to concede that heterosexuality is also a choice? See how easy it is to flip the switch on this?:

    As I said in another post on another comment, living a heterosexual lifestyle is a choice. Perhaps there is no choice in involving what one prefers. Perhaps that preferences come from subconcious aspects of one’s childhood. The source is really not the point. The point is that if one actively lives a heterosexual lifestyle (and I really do not know any other term to use for that) then how can it not be a choice? If one enters enters into a relationship with a member of the opposite sex was that an uncontrolled compulsion or a decision to act upon the desires that they might feel? To suggest that this is not choosing to live as a heterosexual is to suggest that you have people that cannot control their own wants and desires and that I do not buy.

    So go ahead, FB. I wouldn’t want to think that you can’t control your own wants and desires, so just admit that you chose to be heterosexual.

    And puhleeze, FB. It’s obvious that you’re smart enough to understand what Eric is saying here. If I may be so bold as to speak for Eric, I don’t think he’s saying that he doesn’t deserve credit for the hard work he’s done. That’s ludicrous. So again, let’s flip the switch here. I’m a black man working on his PhD at an Ivy league school (Cornell). I am CONSTANTLY under the pressure to assure people that I got where I am ON MY OWN and not because of a hand out. I don’t have the pleasure of people looking at me and assuming that I belong at an Ivy League school. No, I have to constantly PROVE that I belong. And when I speak with other people of color here, I hear the same thing. It doesn’t matter that we all have the same grades, the same test scores, the same recommendations as our white counterparts. We are always suspect. I know people of color that have buckled under the pressure. They couldn’t take constantly trying to prove that they REALLY are as smart as the white folks. At the graduate level, they couldn’t take professors telling them that THEY’RE concerns weren’t of academic interest. So, when Eric is talking about white privilege, he’s talking about the freedom to get an education without that kind of bullshit hovering over your back all the time. And that freedom was attained on the backs of people of color. Period.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Kevin,

    Thanks for a very enlightening response. First on your attempt to “flip the switch” on the homosexual/heterosexual lifestyle, what you say certainly applies. Yes, I prefer women. But if I go out on a date or if I get married, those are choices, choices to live a heterosexual lifestyle. Apparently, you seem to think that flipping this around proves some point and it does – my point. I do have control over my actions and being in a relationship is a decision. In fact, some people consciously choose NOT to be in a relationship.

    As for your experiences having to prove yourself, you give an excellent argument against constructs such as affirmative action. I do not doubt that people have doubts or questions. Why? Because the of the institution of affirmative action! By having such programs in place, it demeans the successes of people like yourselves who have earned you position in your program. In the absence of affirmative action programs, no would have any reason to doubt your qualifications for your program.

  • FB,

    I agree with you that we all choose to act out on our desires to love and have sex, and the differences lies in who we love and desire. However, we don’t chose what those desires are. I think Kevin’s point is that it’s hypocritical to give value to one choice (to act on love and desire when the person is attracted to opposite sex) and to denigrate another choice (to act on love and desire when the person is attracted to the same sex). In fact, it becomes even more hypocritical when it’s expected that someone should act in ways that contradict their love and desires (by forcing gay people to get into heterosexual relationships).

    As a straight man, you don’t know what it means to have your affections constantly demeaned by the majority of society.

    Earlier you wrote,

    A joke is words. How does a joke deny you any of your rights? You might claim that it denies you dignity or identity. Sorry, but that is not a right. Providing you dignity or affirming your identity requires action on the part of someone else.

    I am barely talking about rights when I am talking about oppression. Oppression is the institutional maiming of dignity. It is when one group has power in an institution and when there is institutional cruelty. Sometimes this is wrapped up in rights. Sometimes it is solely about dignity. If you want to speak in rights, I believe that perhaps we could word it in terms of rights: people should have the right to not have their dignity maimed by institutions and people should have the right for equal participation in institutions because they should have the right to have a say in the creation of their world. Right now, the majority of the people in this country do not have an equal say in institutions.

    I don’t believe that it requires anyone else to act to provide me dignity, but to affirm it, yes, probably. But what’s odd in what you say is that straight, white, able-bodied middle class men have their identities affirmed every day. They are considered the norm, and everyone else is considered not quite fully human.

    My question is: Is it wrong to ask people to affirm my dignity as a human being and to affirm my choices that do not harm others? Perhaps I could even go back a step, Is it wrong to ask people to not attack my dignity and denigrate how I live as long as I am not harming others?

    You imply that people are naturally cruel to each other and that’s the way it is and always will be. I think this is against human nature, because I think that people are rational and creative. It is irrational to be cruel. There is no rational reason to be cruel to someone else, because you are harming society and, ultimately, yourself (because if you reduce someone else to less than a human, you have to reduce yourself to less than a human in order to make a comparison). And since we are creative, we should be working together to create a new, more just society.

    Lastly, you imply that the problem with us Lefties is that we talk in groups and deny individual agency. As Kevin astutely pointed out, this simply isn’t true. I think the problem with your view of the Left is that you’re thinking in binaries and can’t see the both/and of the situation: that we can talk about how groups work as classes but also admit that individual agency exists within certain power structures. I don’t deny that my individual agency was hugely important to getting me where I am at. But I also can’t deny that certain privileges of being white, male, able-bodied, and middle class were certainly instrumental in that progress, and I also can’t deny that the blood, sweat, and tears of others in the past and the present have helped me get where I am at.

  • Radar, your question

    is it not queer theory that tells us that sexual orientation and identity is “fluid and changeable”? Is there not some degree of choice presented within the scope of queer theory?

    is a severe under-reading of queer theory. No one (that I know of) in the “school’ of queer theory says that you can just “choose to be straight” or “choose to be gay.” Rather, it’s understand that affection and desire change over time, as does identity, and a large part of it is social construction. This becomes most obvious when we understand that both heterosexuality and homosexuality arose during the mid-19th century. Before that, people were people without orientation inscribed into their identities. Foucault writes that before this time, people focused on the act, and then at this time, largely due to the growing power of psychiatric, medical, and governmental institutions, orientation became part of identity. We went from describing acts to describing people who did acts.

    Another way to understand this fluidity and malleability of sexuality is that many straight people subconsciously chose to ignore their affection or sexual attraction to people of the same sex or gender because it’s inconceivable to them to be attracted to someone of the same sex. Similarly, because of the hegemonic forces that restrict us to heterosexuality, some people who come out as gay subconsciously deny their attraction to the same sex because they need the security of a binary. When I say this, I’m not saying it is true for all straight and gay people, but rather possible for many people.

    What I am arguing for is a society where we stop inscribing straightness into everyone and queerness into those who love and fuck differently, but allow and affirm everyone’s right and ability to love and fuck whomever they want, as long as there is consent. What conservative forces want is to eradicate queer impulses altogether for no rational reason whatsoever.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Michael,

    Thank you again for a rational rebuttal.

    Regarding giving value to alternate choices, I do not believe that all choices are equal. Some choices merit while others, while perhaps being permissible to be made, are not of the same standing as others. There are many things that we can choose to do that are questionable decisions; this is not limited to sexuality lest my comments be taken to only be in reference to that.

    Regarding expectations of dignity, as I have said, I do not feel as a Christian, I cannot promote behaviors that appear to be contrary to the Bible. This does not mean that you should be cruel to others, for I do believe that w are to love all people. But loving someone does not necessarily mean, to my understanding, supporting and promoting any and every choice they make. I definitely support your right to freedom, I respect that in our system of government in America, you have an option to live your life how you see fit, and I support your right to be free from physical harm and threats to your body or property because of those choices. That does not mean that I have to dignify those choices. I know some will construe that these cannot be separated but I contend they can because this is how I try to lead my life. I may not approve of homosexuality, but I am also not cruel to homosexuals with whom I come in contact.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Radar,

    I realize and disagree with Eric’s actions toward you (as best as I can discern from what I have read). I found this especially disappointing as I found Eric’s positions to be lucid and well-reasoned even though I did not agree with them. Overall, I am not ashamed of my positions and people who know me know of my strong, conservative viewpoint. I do not seek to hide it. The only reason I do not generally use my name online in such discussions is that I am concerned of any employers that I might want to work for down the road finding my comments. Again, not because I do not stand behind them, but because so many American corporates are infested with political correctness (contrary to what you might think reading some of the opinions of institutionalized discrimination on this blog) that they might frown on free speech that does not agree with left-wing viewpoints. I have a blog that is pretty strongly stated, though I have not updated it in a while.

  • Luke

    FinanceBuzz,

    In regards to your response to Kevin re: Affirmative Action, you stated:

    As for your experiences having to prove yourself, you give an excellent argument against constructs such as affirmative action. I do not doubt that people have doubts or questions. Why? Because the of the institution of affirmative action! By having such programs in place, it demeans the successes of people like yourselves who have earned you position in your program. In the absence of affirmative action programs, no would have any reason to doubt your qualifications for your program..

    It might be instructive to point out that people of color in this country (and this applies to people who are identified as being of color, regardless of their actual ethnicity) have always had to defend themselves from white folks who think they are unqualified: in academia, business, law, engineering, etc.

    This is not a behavior that suddenly appeared when Affirmative Action was enacted. To suggest otherwise ignores a sea of historical information. Going even beyond the historical knowledge, if the attitude wasn’t present before Affirmative Action began why would a group of white men start Affirmative Action in the first place? You could only believe it came into being under false pretenses if 1) you ignore the experiences (historical and contemporary) of people of color, or 2) feel that there’s a conspiracy afoot. Either argument is irrational.

    The point of Affirmative Action is to provide equity (in addition to legal equality) for folks who have to work against being denied promotion and jobs because of the ingrained white attitude that people of color can’t cut it. Since affirmative action comes into play when two candidates are equally qualified, as it has been since AA was started, and since to do otherwise is to actually go against the law, blaming AA for the very real white attitude that people of color couldn’t possibly have been qualified for a position is fallacious and malicious – you’re ignoring the real problem, that of ingrained, internalized and irrational notions of white superiority.

    Regarding your response to Michael’s comment, you said:

    Regarding giving value to alternate choices, I do not believe that all choices are equal. Some choices merit while others, while perhaps being permissible to be made, are not of the same standing as others. There are many things that we can choose to do that are questionable decisions; this is not limited to sexuality lest my comments be taken to only be in reference to that.

    I find myself agreeing with you entirely. Choices do have higher or lower standing based on my moral and value system, and I think it would be hard to argue that any rational person thinks differently. The problem with the way you have ascribed value to choices in sex and sexuality is that you have failed to articulate why you feel that “homosexuality” is bad for anyone but yourself. I get it: you don’t want to suck dick. That’s very valid, for whatever reason you want to hold. Pointing to a religious text that I am unfamiliar with, and was not raised with, and telling me that I should believe you and think the same way because of your book does not speak to any shared experience or reality which we have. There are far too many experience-dependent premises for that to be a good argument as to why anyone else should hold the same beliefs as you do. This is why incorporating religion into prescriptive notions of morality is problematic: the sheer amount of dependent beliefs is staggering to try and impose on people who were not raised in the same faith, or do not believe the irrational premises necessary for full belief.

    Further:

    Regarding expectations of dignity, as I have said, I do not feel as a Christian, I cannot promote behaviors that appear to be contrary to the Bible. This does not mean that you should be cruel to others, for I do believe that w are to love all people. But loving someone does not necessarily mean, to my understanding, supporting and promoting any and every choice they make. I definitely support your right to freedom, I respect that in our system of government in America, you have an option to live your life how you see fit, and I support your right to be free from physical harm and threats to your body or property because of those choices. That does not mean that I have to dignify those choices. I know some will construe that these cannot be separated but I contend they can because this is how I try to lead my life. I may not approve of homosexuality, but I am also not cruel to homosexuals with whom I come in contact.

    I would be interested to read your definition of love. I always thought of love as feeling deep positive affection for someone, inclusive of all parts of their life – implying that if I love someone, I have a moral duty to treat them as a person with intrinsic dignity.

    I would also like to read your definition of cruel. I often hear platitudes about loving someone who “sins,” yet consistently fail to see how the actions of those who spout this belief are not cruel – most often they come across as distinctly paternal, since I have yet to see the folks who say this respond when someone tells them they are acting cruel or hateful. When you say that you aren’t being cruel to the “homosexuals” you are in contact with, have you asked all of them? If I were to tell you that, by attempting to portray homosexuality as deviant, unnatural and something that should be legislated out of society, I feel you are being hateful or cruel (i.e. indifferent to pain when you could act to help without causing yourself harm), would that affect you at all? Or would you justify your actions by saying that you know how best I should live my life?

    This has turned into quite the interesting thread.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Luke,

    you’re ignoring the real problem, that of ingrained, internalized and irrational notions of white superiority.

    I think a response to your points on AA can be summed up in a response to this point. I simply do not see that this is the way America is anymore. Yes, there may still be some pockets of people who feel this way. However, I have been in the workplace (in a technical environment if that matters) for 11 years now and I have never gotten the sense that any of my co-workers were overtly racist and discriminatory toward black people. I have simply not seen this type of attitude “ingrained [and] internalized.” During this time, I have worked for three different companies, in the South nonetheless, so it is not a peculiarity to my particular company. Again, I think this comes down to perception and seeing things through a prism of race that I talked about in a previous comment.. I can understand that such attitudes were likely more prevalent 40 years ago and could have provided some justification for AA (though I believe any sanctioned preference is technically unfair and unequal). But society and America has changed since then.

    Regarding choices on sexuality, again I can summarize my points very succinctly. I believe in absolute moral values based on the teaching found in the Bible. Just because one chooses not to believe the Bible does not invalidate it. In fact, I have long seen the Bible as talking about choice, as people choosing to place faith in Jesus Christ as their savior. Where is the value in morals if they can be different for each person? That is essentially no morals because there is no consistent standard in such a construct.

    Regarding love and dignity, it is very possible to love someone but necessarily approve of their choices. Consider a mother whose child has committed crimes. Can she not still love that child completely though disapprove of the actions he/she has taken? I am not sure it is even possible for us to agree and support all choices that those that we love make. But we can still love them. To me that is a very simple idea and I fail to see why some might think that such a viewpoint of love though disapproval is not possible. As for whether simple disapproval is cruel, that lies in your definition to cruel. If you believe that you have a right to receive acceptance/affirmation/dignity for all your choices, then I can see where you might come to this conclusion. However, as I have said, I do not think we can rationally expect to have people pat us on our back for all the things we choose to do. Sometimes being told that what you are doing is wrong can hurt, but sometimes it is best for you. To go back to our mother and child example, a mother can discipline a child, tell that child that he/she is wrong to do something, but the mother is acting out of love in the best interest of the child to help steer them away. As a Christian, though it may get portrayed this way and some people may place more emphasis on this side, it is not as much about what you are doing wrong as telling people about the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Take for example the Fred Phelps group that has a complete hang-up on homosexuality who show up at various places with their “God Hates Fags” (sorry for the term but I am just identifying the group that I am referencing) placards. From what I know of them, they are focused more of telling people (almost exclusively homosexuals) what they are doing wrong and not placing quite as much emphasis on Christ’s love. God hates sin and there are a lot more sins than just homosexuality. So I do not consider pointing out that the Bible seems to speak against homosexuality (and I only say seems because I am not a scholar and some scholars will disagree from what I know – but I fail to see how they come to this conclusion based on some passages I have read) is cruel when you accompany that with the message of Jesus’s love and forgiveness. As for how I am not cruel, I do not make disparaging remarks or jokes in the presence of gay people (I do not engage in these too often in small groups of friends but I would be less than honest if I said I had never done so), I do not go out of my way to treat them any differently. I am cordial. In fact, in the workplace, who someone chooses to have sex with is really immaterial and should not even come into play. Sure, you have friendships with people you work with about whom you may know more than just the general knowledge. But in general, sex is not really the smartest thing to overtly bring into the workplace at all.

  • “I simply do not see that this is the way America is anymore. Yes, there may still be some pockets of people who feel this way.

    I have simply not seen this type of attitude “ingrained [and] internalized.” Again, I think this comes down to perception and seeing things through a prism of race that I talked about in a previous comment.

    I can understand that such attitudes were likely more prevalent 40 years ago and could have provided some justification for AA (though I believe any sanctioned preference is technically unfair and unequal). But society and America has changed since then.”

    A couple of things…perhaps you do not see that this is the way that America is anymore is because you are not the target of racial discrimination? I miss a lot of instances of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. because I am not part of a marginalized group. People of color, women, LGBT folks (not mutually exclusive groups) often point out such instances which sometimes go unnoticed by me (a white, heterosexual man). Being on the periphery of oppression as an ally is very different than dealing with it for one’s entire life.

    America has changed a lot. I agree with you. However, as the cartoon so vividly illustrates (I’m a visual learner :-) ), white people in the United States are more educated, wealthier, etc. than folks of color because of past injustice. No matter how hard you (FB) or I work, our lives are still impacted by the past. Affirmative action is a single policy among many that seeks to try to bring things to a balance. I think it comes down to white folks not wanting to recognize that the past happened and that things in the present are the way they are because of the past. We have had a lot of government sanctioned “preferences” which negatively impacted people of color in this country for hundreds of years. Affirmative action is like being bitten by a kitten in terms of its magnitude versus previous intentional, government sanctioned actions directed at people of color. Affirmative action is an ethical step in the right direction. It will not remove the privileges of white people that have been built up and nurtured over the years. However, I feel that affirmative action is part of an anti-oppression/anti-privilege solution.

    Finance Buzz, Luke, Michael, Amy, James and Kevin – I really appreciate your comments.

  • At the risk of derailing something, I’m going to jump back and respond to FB’s response to my first comment. FB said:

    Anytime the government favors one group over another because anything other than their own, individual merit, it is unfair in my opinion.

    Great! So all that history where the U.S. government treated groups of people unfairly – Native Americans, Chinese laborers, African slaves, Irish indentured servants (the list goes on and on and on) – you’re going to 1) take a long, honest look at the consequences of that mistreatment (here some sociologists and historians might come in handy – they study this sort of thing), then 2) promptly support the program(s) that you think do the best job countering the effects of that history, of course taking into account the fact that these historical mistreatments happened to groups – meaning individual remedies won’t actually get at the problem.

    Right? I mean, my propositions follow pretty directly from your own words. If you disagree, please tell me why…and please note EXACTLY what you disagree with in my comment. I think we’re all talking past each other a little in this thread.

    ……….

    That said, um, wow. Quite the comment thread going here. I apparently missed out.

    I do want to take a second and look at one statement that caught my eye. In a later comment, FB said:

    A joke is words. How does a joke deny you any of your rights? You might claim that it denies you dignity or identity. Sorry, but that is not a right. Providing you dignity or affirming your identity requires action on the part of someone else. Thus, how can this be a right when you begin to mandate a manner in which others must act?

    I would argue that ‘dignity’ is a necessary prerequisite to the pursuit of happiness, not to mention freedom. If someone wants to disparage those two things, that’s fine – but I don’t see the point in arguing for a world that doesn’t allow for the pursuit of happiness or freedom on the part of its inhabitants.

    Second, there are plenty of rights that obligate people to act in certain ways; this is not news. In fact, I think it’s a compromise that people have to make to live in close proximity to one another. Doesn’t my right to free speech prevent people from placing duct tape over my mouth? Doesn’t my right to freedom of religion obligate others to avoid burning down my church? Unless, of course, FB has other sorts of rights in mind. If that’s the case, I would like to know what kind of rights don’t come with obligations. And where I can get them.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Dennis,

    The problem you are failing to consider in your proposal to attempt to right past wrongs is that the people who committed those wrongs are by and large gone. If you can right those wrongs in a way that does not penalize people today who did not participate in those actions, then that might well be worthy of consideration. And before you suggest government programs to attempt to accomplish such, government programs require funding, funding generally comes from taxation and that taxation comes from today’s American citizens. I am already paying way too much in tax, especially for things that the government should have limited if any role being involved with. I would strongly resist penalizing taxpayers to address wrongs that they did not commit. History has happened, In many ways, we cannot changes it, reverse or rectify it. We have to avoid repeating those mistakes and we have to avoid engaging in other unfair actions in an effort to remedy past unfair actions.

    Regarding your examples of rights, each one of your examples is of actions that are prohibited that would infringe upon the rights of others. None of these compel a positive action to fulfill the rights of others. There is a big difference between telling me that the government cannot press charges for unpopular speech and telling me that I must post the same comments on my private web site. Eric, for example, is not compelled to provide this forum as a place for me to express my opinions and engage in debate with everyone else. What he cannot do is use the power of government to prohibit my expression in any form.

    As for dignity being a prerequisite to pursuing happiness, this is a weak argument in my opinion. There are many things that people feel they would like to have to better position them to pursue to happiness. What is someone says they must be wealthy for them to really pursue happiness? Should government or society automatically meet that need? You may well have a right to pursue happiness, but that does not guarantee that you will have everything your heart feels it needs to be successful in that pursuit.

  • FB,

    I think we might have found a genuine disagreement: I believe that righting past wrongs will incur a cost on people today. If it was free, we would have done it a long time ago and it wouldn’t have been controversial. The fact that acting in a way that will produce justice will cost people alive today is, I think, a large part of why so many people are balking at doing so. There are no free lunches, right?

    And it’s not so much that I’m failing to consider the cost as much as it is that I think the cost is perfectly acceptable – necessary, even, because for many people, paying that cost is part of publicly owning up to the failures of America in the past. No, we cannot change history – but we can acknowledge that what happened in the past affects us today, just like what happened to you as a child affects who you are now.

    I also think we might disagree about the present’s culpability towards the past. As individuals, we are certainly not responsible for slavery or other abominable things that happened before we were born. However, as a group of people, we do bear some responsibility since many of us benefit from the effects of previous injustice. I think this is another point we might disagree on.

    Let me make that as clear as possible: The fact that people in the present benefit from uncorrected past injustices obligates the people in the present to do something about it, but does not make us guilty of said past injustices. I’m going to guess FB and Radar really disagree with this statement, but even if they do, I think it’s a clear place to stake out a genuine disagreement.

    And in case you would like some evidence that such effects are still being felt, a small hypothesis: If such injustice was limited to the past, then today people of various ethnicities should be roughly equally distributed among all sectors of society, right? Meaning that the percentage of people in each profession by ethnicity should roughly mirror the population, the same being true for male/female ratios.

    However, the above scenario is not an accurate description of America – along with Eric’s comment on Fortune 500 CEOs, we can look at almost any profession and find statistically significant imbalances when it comes to ethnicity and sex; for example, the majority of servers in restaurants are female, but the cooks (especially chefs and head chefs) are male – does that mean that women are worse cooks? Please. Given such imbalances, we are left with one of two conclusions:

    1) People of different ethnicities are inherently good or bad at certain jobs.

    2) There are social forces at play that serve to guide who goes into what profession. These social forces may be exerting pressure currently, or they may be left over from an earlier time in America’s past. Or both.

    Statement #1 is demonstrably false, and is part of the definition of racism.

    That leaves statement #2, and I’ll add that it’s these social forces that folks like Eric, Michael, Luke, and myself are working against (I can’t speak for anyone else on this thread). I also tend to believe that even if things are headed in the right direction, that does not mean we can all stop working and go home; that’s a recipes for disaster – and a huge amount of backsliding when it comes to the progress that has been made.

    Finally, I’m not sure what taxes have to do with any of this. At no point, to the best of my knowledge, has anyone in this thread mentioned anything about taxes. It makes me wonder if FB is arguing against another strawman, or perhaps something from another site, since no one here is advocating raising taxes.

    Oh, and since raising taxes is not, as far as I know, necessary to get at the sort of justice we’re talking about, raising them really has no weight as a counterargument whatsoever, does it?

    FB, as to the rest of your comment, I will try and get to it later if possible.

  • One more thing: The whole point of calling the American Dream a myth is largely that part of the myth is that EVERYONE (not to be confused with anyone) can get rich or strike it famous. That’s impossible by definition – fame is defined as more notoriety than others around you, and rich is also defined, at least in part, in relation to others. Part of the American Dream is being exceptional, something else not everyone can do. So in that sense, the American Dream is indeed a myth.

    Again, that doesn’t mean that no one has ever got rich or famous from ‘humble roots,’ just that it’s not possible for everybody to do so.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Dennis,

    So I come back to my original question: how is it fair or just to effectively hold people accountable for actions they did not commit? I did not own slaves. I have never denied someone a job based on their race or gender. So how is it fair that I have to pay the price for actions that I have not done? That is the biggest problem with your argument, in my opinion, and it runs counter to the entire concept of fairness and justice that America is all about.

    As individuals, we are certainly not responsible for slavery or other abominable things that happened before we were born. However, as a group of people, we do bear some responsibility since many of us benefit from the effects of previous injustice.

    Is it not inaccurate to equally lump all people of one group equally when considering the benefits they may have received from past injustices? This is again an example of the danger of a group point of view as opposed to an individual. Have all white people benefited equally from the institution of slavery that ended 140 years ago? One, to expand on the point in my previous paragraph on individual culpability, I doubt seriously that my family owned slaves given the lack of wealth (to my knowledge) in my family background. My father came from a relatively poor family in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. My mother came from a home with an alcoholic father and a mother who had to work many long hours to provide for her kids. Neither were rich. Neither of my parents nor any of my grandparents went to college, much less had a college degree. So, even if I take all of the arguments on white privilege at face value, the reality is that not all of us received the same benefits from the past injustices. Again, taking all the privilege claims at face value, how to breakdown and quantify the value of the “soft” benefits I have enjoyed such as always receiving the benefit of the doubt because of being white (to borrow an example from Eric)? And if all white people enjoy that benefit among others, how to you account for the broad variety of economic situations they find themselves in? This diversity argues to me that there is a very large component of individual ambition, drive and choices that go into where we stand today. So how can it possibly even begin to approach fairness to lump all white people together and penalize them for – and we come back to this point that I do not see how you can get around – actions they did not commit? That is the entire weakness of your point-of-view in my opinion. Granted, if you see the world as a selection of groups, then it becomes easier to take your stance. But I think seeing everyone as their group is very wrongheaded and against basic American principles where we talk about individual rights, not group rights, individual responsibility, not group responsibility (if you think about, this is the entire idea of our legal system), etc.

    As for the tax point, just to clarify, I am assuming that any government program undertaken to address these wrong must be funded with tax dollars. Whether taxes must be raised or simply redistributed, these are still dollars taken by the force of government from individual Americans. So anything that involves a government-controlled solution will likely make it a tax issue. Now, if your proposed solution rests solely on encouraging corporate America to take actions and other non-government-sponsored solutions, then you are right – tax arguments are immaterial. But I strongly expect (and call this cynicism if you like…I call it experience based on past observation), any proposal from the left probably has a big government program and associated budget lurking in the wings..

  • There is quite a bit of irony in this statement:

    “it runs counter to the entire concept of fairness and justice that America is all about.”

    Since when (and I mean America: Day #1) has America been about fairness and justice for people who are not members of the dominant majority?

    I feel that it is fair or just to effectively hold people accountable for privileges that they receive that are unearned.

    Again, more irony:

    “I think seeing everyone as their group is very wrongheaded and against basic American principles where we talk about individual rights, not group rights, individual responsibility, not group responsibility (if you think about, this is the entire idea of our legal system), etc.

    Once again, referencing America Day #1 to Present Day, what principles are you referring to? The legal system has a long history of backing and creating racist structures that target groups of people.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Eric,

    There is no point in responding to this for the most part. Reading your posts and comments quickly shows that you see most things that you discuss here within a framework of race. The America that you apparently think you live in is a foreign concept to me and I intend to oppose any policy efforts by the left based on what, in my opinion, is a skewed view of this country. I have enough faith in the American people will look around them and say “That is not descriptive of the America I know.”

    You seem to want to hold people accountable for actions they did not take simply because they find themselves in an environment in which they had no role in making. If you have that point of view, you are free to do so. I have pointed out what I consider to be the inherent unfairness of that but you seem to think it is ok to effectively seek retribution from the innocent. You are free to push that, but I hope that Americans will realize that this is not the answer to whatever residual problems we may have in this country as a result of our history. If you want to give up a portion of your wealth and success, that is your privilege (though I get the sense that you are not doing that) but you have no right to attempt to confiscate the wealth and position of others to satisfy your position. That simply does not agree with the freedoms we enjoy from the Constitution.

    And this is a great segue to me asking in response to this:

    I feel that it is fair or just to effectively hold people accountable for privileges that they receive that are unearned.

    Please tell me how are you are going to quantify what portion of my wealth and position is ill-gotten and how much and to whom do I give it back. This is going to be difficult considering I have never discriminated any “protected group” from any of their economic prosperity. But I do look forward to hearing a proposal of how each person’s “contribution” will be determined.

  • FB,

    That’s a doozy of a comment you left there.

    1) How in the world do you have any idea if Eric is or is not giving up privilege, resources, or anything else? Short of you knowing who he is in real life, and knowing a substantial amount about him, there’s absolutely no basis on which to make that claim. I’ve heard that accusation often, and just about every time it’s being made the accuser is assuming the other person is a hypocrite because the accuser themselves wouldn’t give up any of their privilege, so why would they think someone else would? I just want to be sure you’re not judging Eric based on what you would do in his place. Given how different you two obviously are, why would you think you two would act the same way? Or is it just convenient to believe no one would ever give up privilege or resources, because to recognize that would force you to reconsider, even a little bit, your view of human nature and/or the world around you?

    2) I like how after lots and lots of comments, you can “read [his] posts and comments quickly” and get a good idea of how he views the world. Again, there’s little basis to make that claim. Eric’s blog might focus heavily on issues of race, but he has stated that the focus on privilege and white supremacy is a major part of the point of the blog. That says very little about who he is on the whole – don’t you think getting to know someone’s entire worldview takes more than a couple dozen blog posts and comments?

    3) While I do think there is an honest disagreement about race, privilege, etc. between yourself and most everyone else that has commented on this post, I think there is also a big gap in terminology. Personally, I believe that word choice is extremely important in conversations like this, and that while I am choosing my words with care, the way you are rephrasing both mine and Eric’s comments suggests that you are not understanding our comments in the spirit we intend (and, of course, the reverse may be happening as well). The consequences of which are that we keep talking past each other – and that we fail to really comprehend what the other person is saying, resulting in the continual demolition of arguments no one is making. For example, you said:

    You seem to want to hold people accountable for actions they did not take simply because they find themselves in an environment in which they had no role in making.

    Not really. I’m not interested in holding people “accountable for actions they did not take.” I don’t think that applying traditional American conceptions of justice are effective or desirable here. What I – and Eric, I think – are getting at is that since we, as people who are living in America in the year 2007, are benefiting from injustices that occurred in the past, we have a responsibility to work for a society in which those unfair advantages are eliminated. Note: We are not responsible for what happened in the past. There is no guilt or innocence here as it relates to things that happened in the past. Those are over and done, and none of us can change them.

    HOWEVER. What I think people are ‘guilty’ of, if we have to use that terminology (I don’t really prefer it, because I think the word ‘guilty’ comes with baggage that is irrelevant here), is taking advantage of unearned privileges. These privileges came about because of past injustices, and they are what supports things like the Fortune 500 statistics Eric cites, or the housing practice of ‘redlining’ (look it up if you’re not sure of what it means). Those privileges also help explain the fact that while white folks and African-Americans often have similar incomes, white folks have much higher amounts of wealth (meaning stocks, property and homes, investments, family money, etc). This is a result of generations of (racist) action on the part of white folks that was specifically designed to keep black people from accumulating wealth, while at the same time allowing white people to generate wealth.

    The consequences of that disparity are things like home ownership rates and being able to afford to send your kid to college – things that require wealth but that aren’t affected a whole lot by income, but more importantly, things that have effects lasting for generations.

    One more point – you may be thinking to yourself that the above doesn’t resemble your family history at all, that you worked your ass off to get where you are. That’s fine, and one crucial distinction I think I’ve failed to make thus far is that the privileges that we keep talking about don’t always apply to every single person in a group (or that circumstances may serve to overcome any privileges that are present), but that they are always available to certain groups and not others. They occur at statistically significant rates across groups in ways that are measurable, but we’re not trying to deny that there are millions of white folks out there that had a really rough time and worked their butts off getting where they are. Those stories are certainly true, and it would be foolish for me to dismiss them. But that’s not the whole of the story, and the fact that social and historical forces play a role in shaping today’s – and tomorrow’s – world is one of the key things I’m trying to convince you of.

    And frankly, I’m confused as to how you can suggest that history doesn’t affect the world today – because when you say that people should not incur any cost to rectify history’s injustices, I can only see two possible underlying assumptions that allow you to make that claim:

    1) History doesn’t affect the present.

    2) Justice, equality, responsibility, and fairness are less important than the well-being of the individual.

    You very well might endorse #2; I really don’t know. But I think endorsing #2 comes with some implications that you might not like.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Dennis,

    Re: (1): I am simply going on the fact that Eric has told us of his two degrees and his new job. Since the system is so biased to privilege white people, how can he have fairly earned these? Why has he not resigned from his position (I am assuming he has not) and denounced his degrees?

    Re: (2): Allow me to rephrase. His blog posts and comments are [insert my previous comments]. You are correct – I only know what he posts on his blog.

    What I – and Eric, I think – are getting at is that since we, as people who are living in America in the year 2007, are benefiting from injustices that occurred in the past, we have a responsibility to work for a society in which those unfair advantages are eliminated. Note: We are not responsible for what happened in the past. There is no guilt or innocence here as it relates to things that happened in the past. Those are over and done, and none of us can change them.

    Dennis, I would actually agree with you here, though I suspect we may differ on what today is the result of unfairness (e.g. my strong belief in “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps). However, my comment that you quoted was a followup to Eric comment which I quote here again:

    I feel that it is fair or just to effectively hold people accountable for privileges that they receive that are unearned.

    Looks like he wants to hold people today accountable for things in which they did not have a role. Now, if I have misinterpreted his comments, I am more than willing to be corrected, but that seems pretty clear to me.

    Now as for your points on taking advantages of privileges, I will offer myself up as an example. I am white. I own a home. I own stocks and mutual funds. I am not rich but I am not poor either. None of that came from inherited money. It all came from working hard in college , getting high grades, getting quality jobs and making (usually! :) ) smart financial decisions. Since I am white, however, should I have that house or my savings in stocks and mutual funds taken away from? That is what I am talking about when I say there is a major flaw when you try to hold people accountable who may have had an indirect benefit at best. Not only is it not fair, it is not even feasible of practical to consider some program that would do so.

    You do seem to concede that each individual may not be responsible but that their group may be. That may well be a fair enough statement. However, any type of restitution does not come from some giant pot called “White People’s Wealth” – it comes from individuals. And, even if you are seeking to remedy group wrongs, you cannot do it without exacting a price from individuals, individuals who you concede may not have any real responsibility. And that I contend is as un-American as are any unfairnesses perpetuated on people in the past.

  • J

    I am not black, but I’m a woman, now in my fifties. I am trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I feel the pressure from society that I am not good enough, I suppose from the likes of the talk radio, the American way that values making money, at which I am inadequate, and the disrespect in this nation for the poor, as if it is a moral sin to be poor.

    I started out ok in a middle class family but my father had a thing for fondling his daughter. He also talked about and acted out his belief that women were made for men’s use. I developed zero self-esteem in childhood, and got nothing I needed to prepare me for normal adult life.

    My father was revered throughout the rest of his life, by my brothers and society, as a hard working man. I went through hell, as a result of abuse, and the lack of any support or justice for what I went through. I entered the mental health system, where I was immediately diagnoses or rather, misdiagnosed, in about the first five minutes with a shrink, a man, with all sorts of brain diseases. I was an abused woman and I was not a mental. But I spent the next 30 years in the mental health system, often being hauled off to psyche wards, sometimes abused on psyche wards, sometimes homeless, demeaned, patronized, put down and useless. I tried to kill myself several times.

    After being beaten badly on a psych ward and then discharged like trash into a snow and ice storm without shoes or coat right before Christmas, I finally got the gumption to leve the mental health system behind. It was hardly mentally or physically healthy. The people “treating” me were often violent or mean or both or nuts!

    I’ve been on SSI all my life. I will be reviewed again next year and now in my fifties, perhaps dumped off SSI.. If so, they’ll say “your condition improved”. I never had a condition to begin with. So, you know I’ve kind of really gotten fucked over in life, starting with my father. I’m trying to figure out what I’ll do next, if I get the boot off SSI.

    Since I left the mental health system, I’ve worked sometimes 80 or more hours a week in volunteer capacity. Pays nothing. The work is solitary, but the benefit to communities is extreme. Unfortunately, there is no matching type job that pays. I do it because I love doing what I do. But also I still have a need to prove myself, to pull myself up in the eyes of this very judgemental condemning society, to prove my worth. That’s pathetic.

    When I get the boot again, what will I do? I’m trying to figure that out. I know most people feel it’s my problem, the way my life ended up, and my fault. I’m sure some was my fault but a good share of it, there was nothing I could do.

  • J

    I guess what I forgot to say is, despite the fact I’m you know, the lowest of the low in class status here in America, I still have dreams. I still want what all of you want. I’m still a human being, who wanted to have a family, wanted to be loved, wanted to own a house and go on vacations and I still wish for all that. All of us poor people are still human beings. We have eyes, that lead inside to alive souls that are just like yours.

    Most of wish we could somehow please all of you, pull ourselves up, get over our issues, rise to the top of the heap.

    We’re not all lazy demons.

  • J – Thanks for sharing your story.

    I think we need to work on eliminating the causes that have led to the existence of a hierarchical heap…

  • Sewere

    Eric,

    Here’s a link to a book that compliments the Meritocracy Myth. It is aptly named “When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America”. Perhaps it will put the issue of inherited privilege and wealth into perspective.

    peace

  • Sewere – Thanks for the link. It looks like I have one more book to add to my summer reading list. :-)

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  • Danielle Albeniz

    I can’t ignore that it fares far better than schools in impoverished black neighborhoods, which have historically and currently been segregated from more upscale white neighborhoods

    Segregation causes bad grades? “Black” kids can’t learn unless they’re sitting next to “white” kids?

    The test I scored well on, the PSAT, is, as studies show, culturally biased so that people who have certain cultural heritage (mainly, mainstream white)

    Is that why do Asians on average score higher on standardized tests?
    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0883611.html

    Standardized testing for for admission to higher education was adopted 100 years ago. The tests were designed by psychometricians of the WASP establishment and adopted by elite universities. The very same educational establishment that had embraced standardized tests soon ran into what they considered a problem. The children of Jews, many recent arrivals from Eastern Europe, tended to outscore the sons of the same WASP establishment. By the 1920 elite colleges had quietly adopted a quota program to deal with the “problem” of “too many” Jews, and steps were taken to limit the number of Jews admitted to elite universities.

    Affirmative Action, at least the kind ever sanctioned by the government, was never as you describe. Instead, it asked for the choosing of a person of color when the two candidates were equal in all other respects.

    Dennis, I think that AA started out that way, but mutated over time. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925, which first uses the phrase, says “affirmative actions” will be taken “to insure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” I’m convinced that he didn’t intend quotas, goals, or time tables. In his special message on civil rights of Feb. 28, 1963, President Kennedy proclaimed, “Our Constitution is color blind.” On Aug. 20, 1963, he added, “I don’t think quotas are a good idea. I think it is a mistake to assign quotas on the basis of religion, or race, or color, or nationality. I think we would get into a good deal of trouble.”

    Over time I think that affirmative action has led to enrolling, hiring, and promoting hiring lesser qualified members of “minority” groups over better qualified “whites.” See Steven Farron’s book, The Affirmative Action Hoax: Diversity, the Importance of Character And Other Lies.

    We refer to this gap as “the meritocracy myth,” or the myth that the system distributes resources—especially wealth and income—according to the merit of individuals.

    Whatever it is, it seems to operate internationally. See Richard Lynn’s recent book, The Global Bell Curve: Race, IQ, and Inequality Worldwide.

    although the Japanese Internment is perhaps the most visible and extreme pattern of the types of systemic discrimination and oppression

    And even after that incredible injustice, by 1959 Japanese-Americans males on the mainland earned 99 percent of the income of whites. By 1969 the average personal income of Japanese-Americans was 11 percent above the national average, and average family income was 32 percent above. See Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell.

    Why can’t we fund all schools equally and give all our youth an adequate education? Throughout this country we have impoverished schools (mostly filled with minorities) that are right next to districts with rich schools (mostly filled with white students).

    In 1996-97, Washington, D.C., had the largest per-pupil expenditures and smallest teacher student ratios in the nation at $9,123 and 14 to 1 respectively. Despite this, 12% of D.C. public classrooms did not have textbooks at the beginning of the 1996-97 school year. When the city pumped $63 million into roof repairs in the early 1990s, the system spent only 7% of the money on roofs. “Money for Nothing: Increased School Spending DC” by Linda Gorman. DC schools are crappy, but I’m not sure that “white racism” or inadequate funding is to blame.

    we can look at almost any profession and find statistically significant imbalances when it comes to ethnicity and sex;

    Are such imbalances inherently bad or wrong?

    Regarding the whole discussion of affirmative action, who is “white” and who is a “person of color”? Genealogy has been one of my hobbies. I’ve traced ancestors back to Europe, Mexico, the slave markets of Havana, and a Mayan village. Spanish and English were both spoken at various times in my home as I grew up, so thankfully I ended up fluent in both, although I still sometimes make simple mistakes in English such as the double negative. Overall I would say that it has definitely given me an edge in the marketplace. (I work in health care.)

    Affirmative action relies on officially classifying individuals as members of different “races,” and race is a concept which I pretty much reject. What “race” do I belong to? I’ve had to make these decisions every time I’ve had to fill out forms at school or for work. If I left it blank I’d get in trouble, but every time I check one box I feel as if I am disrespecting a different part of my heritage. I’m sick of it. I say just get rid of it.

    If you plot your family tree back 1000 year (about 40 generations), you will have more than a trillion slots to fill in. Go back 110,000 years and we all came from Africa anyway.

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