Positive discrimination is still discrimination

It’s a tragedy that the ugly disease of racial and gender discrimination still plagues our society. Fifty years after the civil rights movement, one can’t but help feel that not much has changed, or at the very least, not enough. Rather than defeating the very core of racism, British politicians seem content to replace true notions of equality with the hard, shiny, plastic exterior of mere political correctness.

This is demonstrated no more clearly than by Harriet Harman’s plans to allow employers to discriminate in favour of women and ethnic minorities over white males. Whilst it’s true that on-white unemployment is overall higher than for white ethnic groups (as the following statistics from the 2004 National Census show), favouring women and ethnic minorities for the sake of a quota and for mere political correctness is not only highly patronising but also deeply divisive.

Stats and chart from the UK Office for National Statistics (2004)

Harriet Harman’s recent speech in the House of Commons is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. For example, she talks about addressing inequalities through creating a “fair and equal society”, and that “no-one should have to put up with discrimination.” That’s all very well, but it seems our politicians have misunderstood the very definition of discrimination itself:

Discrimination: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:

Simply put, discrimination, whether in favour or against a particular group, is still discrimination. Putting “positive” in front of the word doesn’t make it a good thing! To quote Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,

“It’s not just that our color difference doesn’t matter to her. It’s that she doesn’t seem to think there is any difference.”

How can we expect to move forward and eliminate discrimination once and for all, if even our politicans have got it so wrong?

Addressing inequality in the workplace is imperative now, more than ever, in a period of economic instability, where employers need to have access to the best skills, to sustain competitive advantage.

Positive discrimination is highly patronising. The fact is, statistics report that girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of education. And yet despite this, National Statistics Online still report a gender pay gap of approximately 12.6%. Clearly, when it comes to salary, it pays to be a man. But, the point is that forcing employers to hire women just because they happen to be women undermines the fact that women are skilled and qualified and able to perform the job just as well as men.

It’s important to note, however, that Harman said firms should be able to choose a woman over a man of equal ability. In reality, however, I think one candidate always outperforms another, even if by only a slight margin, so firms should choose the candidate with the best ability, rather than using gender as a basis for a decision.

Despite all the doom and gloom, however, I firmly believe that change is inevitable, given that the gender pay gap is closing, though we still have a long way to go to achieving equality. And, more ethnic minorities are entering university and achieving the right skills that employers are looking for.

Looking at education levels, in terms of GCSE exam results, Chinese and Indian pupils are the most successful, whilst white males trail behind in last place. Even the focus on  the underachievement of Afro-Carribeans has been called “statistical racism”, as statistically, Afro-Carribean pupils do no worse than white British from similar economic backgrounds.

We need to get to a place not where we prefer to employ women or ethnic minorities over white males, but where we are blind to differences in gender and race and reward people on the basis of their ability alone. It’s obvious that deep racial discrimination still exists in our society; it’s just that positive discrimination is not the answer.

See the video of Harriet Harman’s speech in the House of Commons here.

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15 comments

  1. manupmen · August 24, 2008

    Excellent and well-thought-out post! This problem is showing up in everyday life, and not just the higher seats of government. For example, minority students are demanding a right to be educated even if they do not do the work assigned to them. It’s as if they think they have a right to the degree without the burden of working for it. As another example, women are (often) very controlling at home, as if they think they have inherited some innate right to boss another human being and dictate behaviors. In both cases, no such rights exist, and claiming special status as a minority will not make it right to demand privilege.

  2. evolution · August 24, 2008

    Hi manupmen,

    Thanks for commenting, but unfortunately, I don’t agree with most of your comments! 🙂

    For example, minority students are demanding a right to be educated even if they do not do the work assigned to them. It’s as if they think they have a right to the degree without the burden of working for it.

    I’m not sure where you got this from, but:
    a) “Minority students” as a whole is a bit of a broad generalisation, don’t you think? Which students are “demanding” anything?

    b) It’s a broad, sweeping statement, without any evidence to back it up.

    The whole point of this post was to express a point of view and use statistical evidence to back it up. In contrast, your comment about minorities and women are baseless.

    …women are (often) very controlling at home, as if they think they have inherited some innate right to boss another human being and dictate behaviors.

    Oh, I’m sorry, women are standing up for themselves. Should we return to the days of the neanderthals where women stay quiet and submissive and just do exactly what their partners want? Equality does not entail a dictatorial approach, whether it’s male or female.

    And, we’re not talking about “rights” here, as in the “right to boss” people around. We’re talking about basic, fundamental human rights, such as the right to make your choices in life, the right to free education for all, and the right to be judged on the basis of your ability in a meritocratic society, rather than your colour, gender, sexuality, or background.

    I can’t help but feel that you misunderstood the point of my post. But thanks for contributing! 🙂

    [Update] I just want to add, that ironically, your comment about discrimination is innately dicriminatory towards women and ethnic minorities.

  3. manupmen · August 24, 2008

    I will alter my comment, based on yours. All minorities, except women, should not be able to dictate others’ behaviors.

  4. evolution · August 24, 2008

    manupmen:

    “Equality does not entail a dictatorial approach, whether it’s male or female.”

    Your comment was a broad generalisation, and beyond that, simply flawed. Plus, irrelevant, because we’re talking about legislature, politics and fundamental human rights, not petty domestic affairs.

  5. manupmen · August 24, 2008

    Ah, well, then to speak to the legislative and fundamental human rights ( not sure why domestic concerns are “petty”), favoring any class of people because of their membership in that class is simply discriminatory. Saying an argument is flawed does not make it so.

  6. evolution · August 24, 2008

    That’s exactly what I’m saying, in the above post, but you made a broad statement about an entire group of people, i.e. women. That was the flaw in the argument.

    And petty, just because we’re talking about societal structures and law, not how people act within their individual households. They can act however they want, the point being that politicians don’t have the right to tell employers to favour one candidate over another, simple because they’re female or non-white.

    We live in a meritocracy, so let’s put into practice Martin Luthor King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech and judge potential employees on the basis of ability alone.

  7. manupmen · August 24, 2008

    Evolution, I truly think there is a valid point buried in your original post. It is this: one of the patterns we often see when a minority begins to ask for equal treatment is that the request sometimes changes in to a demand for special treatment.

    When objections are made to this “positive” discrimination, the person asking for special privilege based on class membership often says something along the lines of, “We’re not talking about “rights” here, as in the “right to boss” people around. We’re talking about basic, fundamental human rights.”

  8. evolution · August 24, 2008

    manupmen,

    I am a minority in many ways: as a female, British Muslim, with an Indian/Pakistani ethnic background, what I’m saying is that minorities themselves don’t want “special treatment”, but they want to achieve equality, not positive discrimination. That’s the point.

    I am putting the “blame” squarely on the politicians, who think that they are working on the behalf of minorites to achieve equality. The strategy is deeply divisive and creates more discrimination, not less.

    This scapegoating argument that claims that “minorities want special treatment” is a slippery slope, down the road to an “us and them” (racist) blame culture.

  9. manupmen · August 24, 2008

    It has always seemed to me that Christianity is fundamentally based on an “us vs. them” mentality. Specifically, it teaches that all non-Christians will perish (john 3:16).

    Do you find a parallel teaching in Islam that creates a similar mentality?

  10. evolution · August 24, 2008

    Well, personally, no. Islam, like any other religion has many different intepretations.

    I would recommend reading a book entitled “Islam and Religious Pluralism” by Murtaza Mutahhari, which summarises my view. I believe in a more pluralistic interpretation of the faith, i.e. I don’t believe that all non-Muslims will “perish” and I refute the “us vs them” mentality, which I believe is the source of many of the conflicts and divisions in the modern era.

  11. manupmen · August 24, 2008

    I applaud your personal view. On the larger, legislative and governmental level, I find that people who are raised on an “us vs. them” religious view often view “others” as the enemy. Once you are convinced God will kill anyone who believes differently than you, it is a small step to discarding anyone with a different viewpoint.

  12. james · August 24, 2008

    this site might interest you – http://www.HarrietHarmanSucks.com

  13. Paul · September 23, 2008

    Thank you for standing up for fairness and equality – that is genuine fairness and equality – not the New Equality of New Labour which means discriminating against new groups, not stopping discrimination.

    I know a lot will say “White males lose jobs – Boo Hoo -why should I care I’m not from that group” but if selection is made not on merit but on race/gender/sexuality then the economy will suffer over time.

  14. Mark · December 15, 2008

    I applaud your article.

    What the fools in New Labour will do, in particular that chief idiot Harriet Harman, by implementing this policy (which we all know has been going on for years under this government) is to cause even greater discrimination, not lessen it.

    How can you defeat discrimination by using it yourself?!

    There will be a backlash if this happens. Unfortunately it will be Britain’s ethnic minorities who will suffer from this, not the paternalistic patronising liberal white elite. Especially if some minorities foolishly embrace it over genuine equal opportunities.

  15. Pingback: Rather than defeating the very core of racism, British politicians seem content to replace true notions of equality with the hard, shiny, plastic exterior of mere political correctness. « Muslim786malaysia’s Blog

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