I would like to follow-up on my first contribution to this blog, and respond to the comment that followed. It raises a critique I am familiar with, and echoes a remark a friend recently made to me in the late hours of a small party (had he perhaps read my post?): “I am all for equality, but that’s it. Equality. It’s when things become unequal that I take issue.” He’s referring, of course, to a previous conversation about the enrollment of women in our law school, where women outnumber men by a factor of two to one.
I appreciate the compassion required to recognize inequality. But that’s the first and most basic step. After so much activism, scholarship, political advancement, and cultural change, I would like to think this is a majority view — that men and women (to limit the discussion to gender) are treated unequally in society, and have been throughout history, and that this is a bad thing.
From here we need to actively seek out solutions for addressing inequality. Often, that solution is in the form of equity measures – admitting more women than men to law school, offering scholarships to particular individuals, reaching out to certain communities.
Once you acknowledge the detrimental effects of inequality, I would say you’re obligated to help. Roll up your sleeves. Do not hide behind your privilege and cling to structures that embolden it.
Recognizing your privilege doesn’t mean simply acknowledging inequality and then going about your daily routine as per usual. Nor is it about victimizing those in positions of privilege. Privilege comes in a myriad of forms.
I have class privilege, the privilege of being able to disguise my race in some instances (though not always), the privilege of living in Canada, the privilege of being educated, the privilege of relative good health, the privilege of a nuclear family in a society where that is still held up as the standard. Taking stock of that, my role in my community, however I chose to define it, is to make space for others with less power, privilege, access, or opportunity, while also ensuring that I do not perpetuate the status quo that results in their exclusion.
Underlining this is the principle that it is better to include than to exclude. A history of exclusion efforts, from wars and genocides to segregation and ghettoization, make this point for me. So, too, does the global trajectory towards democratic, participatory government – a project that has succeeded best where participation is more inclusive than not.
Are there bad practices by progressives that are alienating? Do we sometimes make those in places of privilege feel victimized, and miss the opportunity to make allies? Yes. But surely, if you acknowledge inequality you must also acknowledge your role in it and your opportunity to challenge it.
For our part, those of us in whatever movements promoting equality and social justice can focus on better practices for relationship-building with potential allies. We can do that by sharing the tactics that have been successful in teaching or including others to become allies to our causes.