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.