Skepticism

Why Blindness Is Not Equality

There is a particularly virulent argument often employed to counter the suggestion of increasing minority participation in homogeneous communities and professional fields, and it is, essentially, “We should be judging and promoting people on the basis of their capabilities, not their characteristics.” As a generalized sentiment, it’s great. But as an argument in this kind of discussion it’s completely off-base, and it’s about time we made it excruciatingly clear why.

Those who defend color-blindness, or gender-blindness, or orientation-blindness, or ability-blindness, claim to do so in the name of equality. The general principle here seems to be that if we want people to be equal, we all have to be the same. Only then can we isolate what we really can and can’t do or have or have not achieved.

Except – not really. At best, it’s a lazy way to go about it. At worst, the notion that people have to be made to be all the same in order to be equal is a repugnant one. By blinding your yourself to aspects of an individual’s identity that are problematic or complicated within a larger context, you are not meeting the standards of equality. You are deliberately reshaping different individuals into an existing mold that conforms to a single, traditional standard of worth, which exists primarily because it is traditional and standard. You are taking apart individuals to rebuild into your own ideal, informed only by your own tradition and standard, and that means, in reality, you are part of the same damn problem.

Not only is this not equality, it’s the active enemy of it. Equality is a process of changing our outmoded standards to appreciate the full range of abilities, talents, experiences, perspectives and passions our diverse society offers. This is not biased. This is not unfair. This is progression. It ensures we do begin with a level playing field and that those who win do so without the aid of existing privilege. It brings into sharper focus our similarities and differences and how those interact with each other to improve our ideas and work. It’s not the people that need to be changed, or even just the way we view them. We need to change the value structure. We benefit from equality, true equality, more than we do blindly following a path that will ultimately only bring us back around in a circle to the same point from which we started. Of all people, those who hold up the standard of rational thought should champion learning more about the people around us and the world we live in rather than pursuing deliberate ignorance of reality.

In reality, individuals exist. In reality, there are external, historical, persistent barriers that still interfere with certain individuals’ access to privileges afforded to other individuals. In reality, blinding ourselves to this situation will do nothing to make them go away and, in the end, will not really help anyone.

So how do we put aside blindness and forge change while fostering identity and individual contribution? It’s true that it’s not simple. But, simply put, it needs to come from the ground up, from the inside out. I despise quotas. I have no interest in any initiative that artificially inflates numbers to an meet an arbitrary goal, and I’ve said as much before. I’m interested in examining and exploring the documented lack of minorities in particular areas of thought or profession, determining if there are valid reasons beyond socialization for that lack and, if not, working to dismantle the barriers that stand unfairly in individuals’ ways.

More than that, however, I want to approach this from a positive angle, and clarify what we’re really trying to achieve. It’s not about tearing people down or propping up undeserving others. Our unique identities and perspectives strengthen our community and provide a much-needed challenge to us to continually check and grow our ideas. We should desire and seek this out, not fight it. And we certainly shouldn’t be blinding ourselves to it.

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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50 Comments

  1. Yes, we should lower our standards to promote equality because that sure as hell will have no other side … Waaaiit.

    The problem with this is – for me , anyway – I cant’ see the actual problem.

    Annd.

    “At worst, the notion that people have to be made to be all the same in order to be equal is a repugnant one. By blinding your yourself to aspects of an individual’s identity that are problematic or complicated within a larger context, you are not meeting the standards of equality”

    That’s not it at all. The idea is in the context of the job what you bring to table is what is relevant and nothing else.

    “. You are deliberately reshaping different individuals into an existing mold that conforms to a single, traditional standard of worth, which exists primarily because it is traditional and standard. ”

    I’m seeing a begging the question here. Existing molds in certain fields exist because the field dictates them. It’s possible that this may change, but this article is speaking in generalities preventing anything more than a general response.

    “. Equality is a process of changing our outmoded standards to appreciate the full range of abilities, talents, experiences, perspectives and passions our diverse society offers.”

    … No? Redefining words: Not cool. That is appreciation of diversity. Equality is an idea, anyway, so if that WAS to mean it, you should probably say ‘leveling process’.

    “So how do we put aside blindness and forge change while fostering identity and individual contribution? It’s true that it’s not simple. But, simply put, it needs to come from the ground up, from the inside out. I despise quotas. I have no interest in any initiative that artificially inflates numbers to an meet an arbitrary goal, and I’ve said as much before.”

    You do however say nothing about what this supports: redefining the playing field and lowering barriers, and/or supporting a change based on the characteristics of the players that may not matter.

    1. The fact that you automatically assume valuing any other skills or considering anything else might be relevant to a job is “lowering” standards is a clearer demonstration of the need to write what I did than anything else I could say.

      1. That is not answering any point. And if we judge people by their capabilities (which really means ‘how well they do the job’) then adding in other factors that may mean it is valued less is in fact lowering standards.

        It’s not even a really hard concept.

        (‘course, you may be arguing for something other than affirmative action, which you dislike, according to that paragraph if my reading is correct.)

        I still do not see your point with any clarity.

        1. No, it’s not a hard concept. Capabilities come a variety of forms. My ability to communicate effectively with people I work with, and facilitate meetings and discussion, is deeply informed by my own experience and background. Some of that is directly tied to my experience as a working woman and mother. And it helps me do my job better. Required capabilities will change depending on what’s required. Some jobs don’t require that. Some jobs do. Many things that aren’t jobs at all still benefit from diversity of thought, experience and opinion. This isn’t a single rule to apply to every situation, no matter what the circumstances. It’s a caution that if we don’t take the time to fully consider how we are evaluating these things, and if our own biases (like yours in assuming what capabilities and standards have to mean) are interfering with that consideration, then we lose opportunities for innovation and improvement.

          1. .. Yes, I have this strange bias for using capablities to mean ‘what one can do and what skills one has.’

            I don’t know why. Almost as if…

            “Capability is the ability to perform actions. As it applies to human capital, capability is the sum of expertise and capacity.”

            Also, I was using the .. normal definition of both words. (I will say this: The problem with non credentialed capabilities is that they’re harder to assess and evalute in terms of future production. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be factored in, it’s just they’re never going to be a primary factor for those reasons.)

        2. You are conflating quotas with affirmative action. They are not the same thing at all.
          .
          Quotas are the easy way out for people not interested in devoting the time and hard work to actually engage in affirmative action.
          .
          For example, in reference to the recent skeptical panel kerfluffle, implementing affirmative action would involve researching and recruiting potential women and minority speakers, trying to match them up with appropriate panels, and convincing them to attend the conference, do appropriate background research and practice the necessary skills so they can be up to speed. (Because the problem is that there have historically been few women and minority panelists, many of the potential panelists have never done it before.) On the other hand, implementing quotas just involves deciding what the quotas should be (50% women, 20% various minorities, for example), and then just selecting the first N applicants or referrals to fill out the quotas.
          .
          Quotas are much easier for a lazy bureaucrat to implement, but do little or nothing to actually solve the problem.

  2. One of the things I’ve noticed is that nobody realizes how irrational they actually are. We all have unconscious biases – no exceptions. But some people insist that they are so rational that they would never let things affect them, and since they are unwilling to even admit that they have reflexive biases, they’ll never actually confront them.

    This is especially true among people who make a point to be as rational as possible, but the rational conclusion is that we don’t shake off all ingrained cultural biases just because we want to.

  3. Very well written article and to a certain extent I agree with you. However, I believe your statement “The general principle here seems to be that if we want people to be equal, we all have to be the same” is an unjustified over-simplification. Yes, there are definatly people who act this way towards minorities but that is not how I see “colour / gender / orientation blindness”. I think that a more accurate statement would be “The general principle here seeems to be that if we want people to be equal, we all have to be held to the same intellectual standard”. Especially in a work environment, I am a white male in an office and when I am looking to hire or promote someone I am not “blind” to their colour / gender or orientation, I see it but do not take it into account when judging them as a person or employee. The way I see it is that if I give the job to an African American, woman, or homosexual over a white straight guy who is better qualified for the job then I am being a bigot / sexist / or homophobe for treating them different then I would treat anyone else. I am not saying treat everyone as if they were the same as me (Every individual is different and should be managed differently, recognising this is a sign of a great boss) but hold them to the same “intellectual standard”. In the end I think we are arguing for the same side, just using different definitions. Thanks for your time

    1. Thank you for the compliment and I do see your point. I’ll clarify that the application of this principle will necessarily change depending on its context. In terms of certain jobs, it’s not appropriate to consider some of these external qualities, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in other circumstances (even other kinds of jobs), those qualities of background and experience can actually improve one’s ability to do the job. That consideration and reevaluation of value when it comes to skillsets is what I’m advocating for.

      1. I see what you are trying to get at but background and experience are part of the “intellectual standard” I advocated. Im not saying that background and experience should be pre-supposed (not every woman will have the same experience as every other woman) rather, it is all part of understanding who someone really is on the inside regardless of their appearance. Again we are mainly arguing over definition and not principle (I have a feeling we hold similar beliefs of the subject), but one point I do disagree with is “That consideration and reevaluation of value when it comes to skillsets…”, the main problem I have with this is the “reevaluation of value” as this is assuming that they have been evaluated differently or held to a different standard to begin with or that they should be held to a different standard because of outside appearance. If individuals are treated as individuals and held to a consist intellectual standard (including experience) then there should never be a need to reevaluate their value.

        1. I’m having difficulty wrapping my head around what you’re saying. Can you give specific examples where something outside work experience and education should be considered for a certain type of position?
          .
          Let me turn that around and ask you, are there things outside of work experience and education that shouldn’t be considered for a certain type of position?
          Do you think those things are ever taken into consideration when they shouldn’t?
          If so you have the reason this discussion is needed.

          1. “Do you think those things are ever taken into consideration when they shouldn’t?
            If so you have the reason this discussion is needed”

            Wouldn’t the fact that they are be an argument FOR blinding, instead of AGAINST.

            Imagine a hiring process in which HR is given a stack of resumes in which only numbers are used to identify a person, and only education and work experience is presented. This would be blinded as much as possible. How would this be a bad thing.

            This is what I’m thinking when I hear “blinding”. If my definition is wrong, please, let me know.

        2. What if someone is a really good engineer on paper, but they are a complete asshole who no one can work with? If you have an organization with a lot of new, younger employees who need mentoring, you might be better off with a slightly lesser engineer good nurturing skills.

          If hiring managers only look at skill set, the jerk will always win, even though it will be worse for the organization.

    2. In an unbiased world I would agree with you, but the “intellectual standard” is informed by the privileges an biases that set it in place; until we live in a world where these preset barriers no longer exist we must always move toward that goal. It is an exercise in half-steps to be sure but it must be done.

  4. Just to preface, I’m having a hard time understanding what position you are taking on the word “equality,” so my response is my perception of the word itself and how it should be used in debate.

    You have to be careful about using the word “equality,” especially in broad reaching discussions about laws and society. In the past, Equality was referring to equal rights and the struggles for Women, minorities, and now the LGBT community, to obtain what it sees as equal rights under the law. With the exception of gay marriage, in places like the US, most of those rights are realized.

    The problem is that the language has shifted. Equality to most means “Equal opportunity.” That is, I know you are different than me and your abilities are different, but I will not judge you based on race/creed/color/gender/orientation when I make my decision. The problem is, people to this day still do that. It’s also clear that even though they have the same right to vote, different classes of people clearly don’t have the same opportunities that others do, and it’s disproportionate across race and gender. US Women get paid less on average than men in both salary and hourly wages. African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to be poor and live in substandard housing, and an overwhelming majority of felons in US prisons are black. And so these groups have to work twice as hard to get half as far. That does not seem to be “equal” to me, and is definitely not an equal opportunity.

    If you are lazy and refuse to educate yourself, there’s nothing I can do for you. But if are hard working belonging to one of these classes, it’s my job to not be a barrier to your success, and make sure I do my part in society to help make sure others see these barriers as well.

    In the logical dictionary definition of equal, that being 1=1, I do not see two people being exactly equal. But as a human being I think we all deserve equal opportunity to achieve our dreams and goals, no matter what they are, as long as those dreams don’t hurt others.

  5. This is a very timely post for my life. My daughter just turned 11 and several of my friends have girls who are the same age. There has been some (friendly) disagreement among the mothers as to what we feel constitutes feminism and what we wish to model for/instill in our girls. For some there is a definite desire to have gender neutrality, for example they don’t think fashion, pop music or anything traditionally “girly” are feminist in nature and therefore try to restrict and/or dissuade interest in their daughters. The rest of us feel that neutrality isn’t the point and embracing the feminine side of ourselves is true feminism. The reason some of these “girly” things have been found wanting is simply because they are considered feminine and not because they actually hold less value than some of the other interests that seem to be preferred.

    For example, one of the girls was encouraged to play basketball instead of trying out for cheerleading. Now, I think girls who want to play basketball should do so and I don’t think this makes them less feminine in any way than the girls who chose cheerleading. However I don’t think basketball should be pushed upon them as a superior choice to the more traditionally feminine cheerleading. The mother in this situation stated that she’d worked to hard in the 70s for equality to see her daughter become a “mindless girly girl”. The rest of us felt it was important to support and encourage our daughters with whichever activity they chose (or if they chose neither because they weren’t interested in any sports). We want our girls to know that they can be feminine when they enjoy sports and conversely they can be feminists when they don’t.

    As for the issue of lowering standards- this example illustrates that when we’re discussing honoring specific skill sets we aren’t talking about lowering standards because of course any girl that didn’t have the skill set necessary would be cut from either team. Our focus was on changing the expectation that the traditionally female sport was somehow inferior to the traditionally male sport. And by extension challenging the idea that the girls choosing cheerleading were then somehow inferior to the girls choosing basketball.

    I’m sure every member of a minority group can think of similar examples where they were expected to bury their true interests and desires in order to show the world that they were just like the majority and therefore acceptable. This is not equality. Fighting for the right to be ALLOWED to do the same things the majority are allowed should not equal an expectation that these choices are now the ONLY thing that is acceptable. Civil rights is about freedom of choice, not trading in the stifling cloak of discrimination for the equally stifling cloak of pretension.

    When I read this post I wanted to stand up and cheer, not because every person is equally qualified to do every job or participate in every activity but because every person should be able to pursue greatness and be valued for their unique attributes.

  6. Use of the word “equality” is at the root of this problem. The word, by definition, implies that two things are identical. 2+2=4 is an equality.

    I suggest use of the word “fairness”. This is what we seek. We seek to be valued for what we can do and how we can contribute. Fairness is one of the concepts at the root of most ethical systems.

    Continued use of the word “equality” will just continue to cause misunderstanding… and nobody wants that.

      1. haha…. you know what I mean… but… since this post is really all about slicing and dicing up definitions such as equality then we should be accurate.

        No one really believes humans are all equal… do they? We desire equal rights, equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work…. but this does not make us equal. Poor word choice is the main problem here.

  7. A claim of color (or whatever)-blindness comes from a position of privilege, of being in the status quo. IME, many of those who cry “I’m color-blind!” are well-meaning white folks desperately trying to distance themselves from any taint of racism, and the cry is often followed by a justification along the lines of how many friends they have in various shades of brown. (If you’re seriously tallying up your friends in an effort to prove you’re a nice person, that’s not so nice.) What they’re often saying is, “I try really hard to pretend that everyone is just like me,” which, if you think about it, is kinda weird. Anyway, if everyone was like you, you’d probably be pretty bored.

    Why in the hell would you WANT to be color-blind? Why would you want to ignore the unique experiences and culture and basic awesomeness of other people? It’s like pretending that everyone is from your hometown, and announcing that you ignore the fact that some folks are from San Francisco or Dallas or Chicago or Podunk, Wherever.

    We can always do better. Even though we can’t ever know what it’s like to be someone else, we can always try to understand, or at least be understanding.

  8. I’ve been silent here for a long time, since things at work got a little crazy with a co-organizer leaving and a new one coming in. But Jen, this was so powerful that I wanted to weigh in. Great article!

    I think some of the quibbling comes from the context in which we think increasing diversity is important. Should it be part of the hiring considerations if we’re looking for, say, an off-site web designer for a medium-sized food service business? Many would argue no, not so much. But in organizations where there’s teamwork, groups that come together to make decisions, and interaction with the public, it’s easier to see that it’s important to be concerned about diversity.

  9. “The general principle here seems to be that if we want people to be equal, we all have to be the same. Only then can we isolate what we really can and can’t do or have or have not achieved.”

    No, it’s not the “general principle”. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of the principle. The “principle” is that when you have to make a decision, i.e. you have one job and ten people, that you don’t use arbitrary crap. Skin color has no place in that decision, unless say, you’re casting for the role of a black person, or an asian person. In other words, the qualifications required are required equally of all. Women don’t get screwed on salary, black people don’t get ignored, white people don’t get favored.

    That’s got nothing to do with “requiring everyone to be the same” on any level. But if the job requires a degree in aerospace engineering, then any applicant without that degree is out of luck. Not any black applicant or any female applicant.

    What you’re doing is setting up a strawman based on what looks like a deliberate assumption of “what everyone means”. you can’t say that with anything vaguely resembling accuracy, and without that strawman, much of your argument falls apart.

  10. The more arguments I read, the more I’m convinced that the principle that you should always interpret the arguments of your opponent in the best light is a valid one – not just because it’s nice, but because it makes your own argument stronger.

    In this case, I simply don’t think you’re interpreting the argument for color-blindness very well. “The general principle here,” you say of the color-blind argument, “seems to be that if we want people to be equal, we all have to be the same. Only then can we isolate what we really can and can’t do or have or have not achieved.”

    Well, no. The general principle is actually the reasonable (and not at all “virulent”) one that “We should be judging and promoting people on the basis of their capabilities, not their characteristics.”

    If an employer wants to fairly judge a prospective employee, the employer should naturally make every effort to leave irrelevant factors out of the decision.

    The color-blind argument is that race should not be considered a relevant factor in this decision. This does not mean that the employer is somehow making individuals “all the same in order to be equal,” “reshaping different individuals into an existing mold,” or “taking apart individuals to rebuild into [the employer’s] own ideal, informed only by [the employer’s] own tradition and standard.”

    The thing is, there’s actually a very strong reply to be made in reply to the traditional color-blind argument, and it’s hidden in your essay.

    If the color-blind argument is that race should not be considered a relevant factor in employment decisions, the counterargument is obviously that it *should* be considered a relevant factor.

    As you note, “there are external, historical, persistent barriers that still interfere with certain individuals’ access to privileges afforded to other individuals.”

    This means that those who were not given such access may have the potential to outperform those who were. An employer who chooses to consider race (and gender and sexual identity etc.) irrelevant is therefore going to miss out on that potential.

    Naturally, the best long-term solution is to identify and “dismantle the barriers that stand unfairly in individuals’ ways,” as you note. But in the meantime, by *not* hewing to a “color-blind” mentality, an employer aware of these barriers can make an extra effort when considering potential employees who have faced them to see if there’s any indication that they may have such untapped potential.

    That’s how you counter the color-blind argument while at the same time addressing the fairness concerns raised by those who who see color-blindness as the only alternative to quotas.

  11. “I just go by qualifications and don’t see race or gender or any of that.”

    What this means is that when nine out of ten candidates are straight white dudes—like me—the probability of a straight white dude being chosen is much greater. The one person who’s not a straight white dude has to work at least twice as hard just to be seen as “equal” to the rest and therefore deserving of the position.

    Jen’s point is spot on. Being white, straight, and male means having the privilege of being considered normal, and it is a privilege to believe our group—and our group alone—gets to set the standard by which everyone else must live up to in order to be viewed as “equal”. So of course, in this environment, it’s so easy to just say “I’m colorblind!” and believe that absolves us of any responsibility to take action against the cultural biases that lead to an inevitably homogenous demographic in the controlling groups of our society.

    So yes, I will say that if there are two candidates for a position with equal qualifications and one of them is a white dude, I will go with the one who’s not a white dude (assuming, of course, I have the privilege of being the one who gets to make that decision).

    Viewing that as “reverse discrimination” is sorely missing the point. It is not bigotry to put the interests of a privileged group aside while promoting the interests of groups that have been traditionally marginalized.

  12. Two points:
    I think maybe what people seem to be missing is the idea that while there may be concrete skill sets required for a certain job, for instance, the nature of how those credentials and abilities were achieved needs to be reevaluated. There is still a lot of “Old Boy Network” type assessment going on in the workplace, and presumptions about the transferability of skills obtained in non-traditional ways. You don’t need have to have gotten a degree in planning and logistics to be good at those things. This is a reason many returning-to-work mothers are often overlooked “oh, but she wasn’t trained to do XYZ”, but perhaps there is a lot of logistical and planning skills one uses in raising three kids who all need meals, schooling, being driven around, doctor’s visits, managing family finances, filling out insurance forms, and handling all the myriad demands a modern life requires. There are numerous ways one can acquire knowledge and experience, but employers still can have very narrow views of which forms of past experience and training are “valid”, and make a lot of presumptions. Employers tend to only know their field, and not look into broader society to see how people might have the skills they need but might come from elsewhere. “Former ballerina? Why would I hire her?” Well, ballet requires tremendous personal discipline, teamwork, commitment, endurance, spatial analysis, excellent memory for details, patience, ability to predict and anticipate future events,etc. Sounds a lot like say, a former military member, but guess who might get priority because one field is a known quantity & the other unknown? I’m giving a real life example here. This is a kind of reevaluation I think is being talked about in the essay. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    My second point I’d like to raise is that pretending you’re some robot who only hires based on qualifications & nothing else means you’re probably not helping to change any imbalances that exist, and are not looking at the larger societal picture your business operates within. What does the face of your company look like? All male? All female? All white? All able bodied? Do all your competent hirees have nearly identical backgrounds?If so, isn’t there possibly a chance that these demographically homogenous workplaces might have some blind spots? Maybe they all problem solve the same way, or carry certain biases that some experiential diversity could help to crack open a bit. How friendly does your business look to minorities of any kind? Are there any visible/invisible minorities working there? Will visible/invisible minorities feel comfortable applying to a business that is seemingly devoid of them?
    That helps perpetuate the status quo. Sometimes the person who is best for the job is exactly the person, who despite being otherwise “equal” in terms of credentials, is different, unique, brings a fresh perspective or another dimension to the common knowledge of the business.

  13. If you are againts quotas, which work rather well in South Africa I am told, what are some good suggestions for change? I mean, I do know many private universities do use a quota system…though the quota system that worked well for my family was a limit or preference for non-Asians. White Americans have better odds than Asians in this instance.

    When I asked about it part of the reason given was that we live in a multicultural world. A student that attends a school without diversity is a poorly educated student. A mostly Asian or mostly white or mostly men or mostly women student body is not good prep for the real world of work in which there will be many types of people they will be working with. So for this school, having mostly Asian (and well qualified Asians) applicants, diversity and balance were the key issues in preference for white Americans. (though female was also a big plus).

    1. This is an excellent argument for diversity in schools and in businesses too. People need to associate with diverse people during their childhoods to be able to understand those people as people. It is when children are not exposed to diversity as children that they can grow up ignorant of other people which triggers xenophobia via the uncanny valley effect (my hypothesis).

      http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

      The problem with being “colorblind” is that if there have been arbitrary adverse effects due to discrimination, the only way those adverse effects can be rectified is via other arbitrary effects.

  14. Arguing that a different set of skills should be actively sought out indirectly as a result of quota-setting undermines the economic engine. There’s a reason beyond bigotry that industries seek certain types of experience, skills, and work-culture types. Trying to force that to change is the wrong approach.

    The correct solution to inequality is to break some of the economic factors harming it, such as uneven public school funding, and the indirect gatekeeping done by universities in the form of tuition and fees. If we stopped making university “an investment one chooses to make” and turned it instead into “something that any willing and capable individual can and should do,” we would probably see minority enrollment go up and the cross-section of middle America would look more like a cross-section of America as a whole.

    The fear of crushing debt looms over every potential student, and if we removed that factor entirely, not based on the gamble of scholarship and grant applications we’d see that burden removed.

    We keep making incremental improvements to a fundamentally broken system and wondering why it’s still a white straight man’s world. The reality is quotas are just the only response we can come up with because too many people are afraid to make higher education in the United States no longer an industry which produces employees, but instead a national institution which educates capable individuals. What I’m arguing for might require increasing standards of admission in order to prevent a flood of students that will essentially just waste the opportunity (there are plenty of spoiled white straight males who squander the opportunity cheap credit or parental support gives them,) but at the same time, will completely obliterate any barriers to admission short of self-imposed cultural ones.

    In defense of quotas, however, I think that workplaces should be made to keep track of the number of qualified resumes from various minorities cross their desks, and how many are hired; a huge disjoint would merit investigation.

  15. Excellent post, but I do have a few minor quibbles.

    In the 2nd paragraph, you say The general principle here seems to be that if we want people to be equal, we all have to be the same. I think a better statement of this view is “… we all have to be treated the same.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but if I and everyone I know and everyone who reads Skepchick or who belongs to a skeptical organization did this, it would not solve the problem, because it assumes everyone is starting from the same place and that everyone is treated equally by everyone. As long as there is a legacy of bias and unevenly distributed privilege, this policy would not help. It is only treading water.
    .
    My second quibble is with the “level playing field” analogy in the fourth paragraph. This sports reference is almost universally used to describe an unbiased social structure, where everyone has an equal opportunity, but there are important differences from sports. In a sporting event, there are always winners and losers (take that, Vancouver!), and a level playing field ensures that neither side has an unfair advantage. However, in an equitable society, everyone wins. A small number of privileged winners might not win as much, but the totality of the prize is much greater, because everyone gets to contribute more, by doing what they want to do and what they are good at, when there are no artificial constraints. I think this is what you were getting at when you said later in the same paragraph We benefit from equality, true equality, more than we do blindly following a path that will ultimately only bring us back around in a circle to the same point from which we started.

  16. As Catgirl pointed out, we as skeptics should all know how difficult it is to avoid unconscious cognitive biases, and so I should have pointed that out (in my first paragraph) as a second reason why it color-blindness is insufficient. We might all think we are acting in an unbiased way, but we could easily be wrong.

  17. At first I was like “no way!” but I then I appreciated the audacity of the contrary point of view and it jolted me into understanding what you are talking about.

    You’re not advocating that people put out job openings like “black engineer” or “woman chauffeur”, you’re saying when you’re in the door and it’s interview time, don’t just look at a narrow, sterile window of attributes. Look at the whole picture.

    You don’t want people to grudgingly add you to their team because you match a skillset, you want them to recognize and appreciate your broader strengths which may stem, in part, from your identity.

    I have recognized in my own work experiences that intangibles are too often overlooked despite the profound effect they can have (both negative and positive).

  18. I’d like to know what field these people work in where there is one clearly, most qualified individual (who always happens to be a young white guy) and in order to diversify, they have to hire a homeless drug addict because that’s the only black guy they can find.
    Whenever I’ve had to make HR decisions there is usually a handful of qualified people, each of whom has a little baggage: a space in their employment history, can’t work evenings, kind of cocky in the interview. That perfectly qualified automaton that can do it all never seems to send his resume.
    Next time this golden boy I keep hearing about swings by, send him to my office.

  19. Well and I think experience as well as education is important. At the school where I work, the biggest degree ever isn’t as important as things like “I worked summer camp every year as a teenager” or “I was a nanny all through college”. Work yes, but work that was with children rather just in a classroom. These people know if they like kids or not. We hired one teacher assistant that had taught swimming to kids from age 14 on. History major but always loved the job working with kids the best. And the kids continue to love him at the school.

  20. Despite mostly agreeing with Jen, I think the stance here is poorly articulated and poorly argued. You can’t always judge a piece by it comments, but I have a feeling that the slew of misunderstandings that make up the comments thread could have been avoided with a little more careful editing.

  21. I think you’re making this more abstract than it needs to be.

    I personally believe that when choosing speakers or panel members, the criteria should be on who are the most relevant people in the field. There’s this very inconvenient piece of reality that a lot important people in skepticism have been white men, and this idea that we should sacrifice some level of relevance to satisfy the Skepchick political goals of having more diversity in speakers is heavy handed.

    An unusual background can indeed give a new perspective, but why has that little piece of a speakers background become so big here? The relevance of the speaker already factors in for any unique angles. I really don’t like this unchecked PC trend. I signed up to fight misinformation, not to satisfy white guilt.

  22. equality = equal access and opportunity. that is regardless of creed, economy, DNA, function. the application to, for example education, would mean tossing out the present system. ah, now, there’s a dream.

  23. Blindness to race/gender/etc. is by definition equality…if you are removing the item from the equation, then you are guaranteeing that two candidates are treated equally, in that instance. It doesn’t address societal ills, of course. The idea that you seem to be pushing is that sometimes being a woman/black/gay should, on its own, be considered a positive attribute. That is, by definition, sexism/racism/etc.

    I’ve noticed that, even more than his article that seems to make a vague argument, there is a fundamental disagreement on both sides of this debate, based on this question:

    Is racism/sexism, etc., ethically bad on its own, or is it bad because of the effects it has?

    If it’s ethically bad, then you don’t solve a history of ethically bad actions by doing another ethically bad action, and that is one position.

    If it’s only bad because of the effects it has, then it’s perfectly okay to use racism to attempt to cure racism.

    I will say this: that the argument here, that race/sex/etc. should be factored in, allows for the distasteful things that currently happen sometimes. For example, if being a woman should be allowed to be a positive, what would prevent it from being a negative?

  24. I think part of the issue here is how effectively performance can be measured. I don’t see calls for racial bias in sports to make competitions more representative of their communities. Because in sports ability is pretty easy to measure so you can be blind to it and not be concerned that some internal bias is messing messing with the decisions of the people involved.

    The problem with this article is that it is dealing with the issue in an abstract when how much a blind system truly is blind is determined by how accurate you measuring system is at measuring the qualities you are looking for.

    The article is full of unstated assumptions about what kind of situation this is being applied to with out looking at a specific case study.

  25. “I’m interested in examining and exploring the documented lack of minorities in particular areas of thought or profession, determining if there are valid reasons beyond socialization for that lack…”

    I can’t think of a profession where socialisation would *not* be the reason for a lack of adequate representation of minorities. The other explanation would be that a particular gender, race, orientation etc is naturally bad at a particular task. That’s very unlikely to be the case.

    The only minority I can think of that this would perhaps apply to would be those who are physically or mentally disabled, who actually can’t do the specific job in question because of their specific impairment (and there is no equipment in existence that could help them do it).

    Also,’equality’ surely means equal consideration, equal worth, equal opportunities, equal rights, equal ability for self determination, equal access to independence, etc etc? In a world where there are 6 billion genetically distinct individuals, the idea of people still thinking equality means ‘exactly the same’ is laughable.

    1. Now there are of course confounding factors, like does the minorities culture place value on the field of study and interest. Look at the massive over representation of Catholics and Jews on the supreme court.

      So if the culture of a minority group is the reason for under representation how do you force them to change to value the job? As an example how do we convince black kids that being successful in school is not “acting white”? They have a large social pressure from their peers not to succeed. How much bias in their favor do you need to overcome that?

  26. This article sounds like a load of incoherent mumbo jumbo. There is nothing wrong with evaluating someone’s skills/abilities when considering them for a job while ignoring irrelevant features such as race, sexual orientation, etc. In fact, that’s exactly what people should do.

    No one is suggesting that we should all be considered “the same,” since we’re obviously not the same. And no one is suggesting that we ignore the fact that people suffer hardships as a result of their race, orientation, etc. We should be aware and informed about what goes on in the world.

    The only real solution is for those with no conscious contempt for other groups to continue judging people by the content of their character, while the bigots receive hands-on education to help them understand that people can’t logically be judged by external and irrelevant characteristics.

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