Lecture 40: Justice, Race and Identity

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Lecture 40: Justice, Race and Identity
Who counts for one?

recall elitist view: the well-being of some counts for more than the well-being of others

egalitarianism: the well-being of each counts for as much as the well-being of others
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

d) freedom of association.
7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

    (2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

these are rights and freedoms accorded us by virtue of two things: a) being recognized legal members of the Canadian community, and b) being human beings.

these are legal protections: each of us is seen as equally under the law and thus we should be treated as equals in the application of the law

these are also moral protections: the principle of equality is one that holds because it is assumed that there is no morally relevant difference between individuals that suffices to treat them unequally or to accord them different moral value – each of us is deserving of equal respect

assumes a conception of the proper moral subject – doesn’t apply to non-human animals, to the environment, to fetuses

But is this sufficient for a just society?

we fall short of the ideal and find that we are not all equal and that the inequalities often follow the lines of race, sex, age, geographical location, ethnic or linguistic community, and so on

but what is the ideal exactly? That we should be all alike, or that we should be treated all alike? Is it really proper that we are treated all alike? E.g., should a child be afforded the exact same protections as an adult, or does the child deserve additional protections? Given a commitment to equality, does the fact that women have children mean either that a) there should be no maternity leave since this would give preferential treatment to those women who have children and not to other women and men, or b) that everyone should get the equivalent of parental leave whether they have children or not? Is it unfair to white males that preferential treatment should be given to women and minorities to remedy institutional inequalities in past hiring practices? Should the First Nations be assimilated into mainstream Canadian culture as a remedy for their impoverishment and social problems?

earlier we discussed the challenge of negotiating individual rights and the demands of living in community; these must be balanced if society is to be a well-ordered cooperative system

but what are we aspiring to? A gender-free, race-free, linguistically homogeneous, culturally homogenous society? Does equality mean homogeneity? Surely not. It is not equality for its own sake that we value but what equality affords us and what respect it offers. Like Rawls, we may interpret equality as requiring that we each have a fair chance of living a life according to our choosing. Certain conditions would need to be in place for this to happen and to the extent that there is sexism, racism, ageism, and other forms of institutionalized prejudice, then not all individuals have the same chance. Thus, it’s clear that we should endeavour to subvert these ideological stances and retrograde institutional structures. There may be need for intermediate remedial stages, e.g., affirmative action programs, to create the conditions for a just society.

as Sherwin noted and as hooks affirms, it is oppression itself which is reprehensible; in pursuit of gender-equality, many women of colour have felt left on the side lines – true, they were women and would benefit from gender equality, but would they benefit in the same way as their white counterparts? It’s clear that they would not because cutting across society, there is not only oppression on the grounds of sex, but also on the grounds of skin-colour, racial affliation, and other identifications, e.g., religious affiliation, linguistic group, ethnic group, class. For example, feminism benefits white women more, hooks argues, not only because racial prejudice in society, but also because of class difference. There is power in being white in this society which cuts across gender and class, which had not been addressed by feminism (at least, not at the time of writing the article).

tension centers around identity: how one identifies oneself and how others identify one

if I identify myself as white, am I making a statement of biological fact? Am I making a political statement about my place in society? Am I making a moral claim about the rightful respect and privilege I deserve? And even if these things were to be claimed of me, it’s not clear just in what way I identify with being white. If I were to sit down to make a description of myself, a description that would capture who I am, would I identify my whiteness, my femaleness, my linguistic preference for English, my ethnic roots in Scotland, my heterosexuality? Each of these things is true of me, and yet none of them alone captures who I am, nor are these things anything but a sampling of the sorts of ways in which I might accurately identify myself (to others) and define myself (for myself).

but how do others see me? What things do they take note of, and what things do they ignore?

my place in society may not be of my choosing after all; it may be determined in important ways by the judgments of others, by societal structures that afford me little choice at all


racism is grounded on racialism: empirical claim

there are heritable characteristics, possessed by members of our species, that allow us to divide them into a small set of races, in such a way that they do not share certain traits and tendencies with each other that they do not share with members of any other race. These traits and tendencies characteristic of a race constitute, on the racialist view, a sort of racial essence.”
racialism forms the basis for two forms of racism (normative derivation from empirical claim): extrinsic and intrinsic
extrinsic: moral distinctions can be drawn between different races because the “racial essence entails certain morally relevant qualities”

these racial differences are taken to warrant differential treatment

evidence that such morally relevant differences do not exist should then tend to undermine extrinsic racism
intrinsic: moral distinctions can be drawn between different races because “each race has a different moral status, quite independent of the moral characteristics entailed by its racial essence”

membership in a given race is alone a sufficient reason for preferring one person to another

no amount of evidence would ever make a member of other races admirable or attractive, e.g., simply the fact of being a woman or a man means that there is reason for treating her or him in certain ways, or being Albanian, or whatever

may seek further justification by appeal to essential features (extrinsic racism)

earlier we talked about the “people” as having legitimate authority over the public good

nation-state: the “people” is taken to be a homogeneous group who share membership on intrinsic grounds, e.g., being Quebecois, being Albanian, being Serbian, being Catholic, and so on.

nationality has been seen as a legitimate basis for political sovereignty

but who is the nation? Who are the people?

Appiah notes the difference between inward-directed intrinsic racism (a sense of community identity, of belonging), which tends not been seen as “racist” (or elitist), and outward-directed intrinsic racism, what we would generally describe as “racism” in every day language (beliefs of superiority, held against others characteristic of racial prejudice prejudice = pre-judgment of value)
Binary thinking: Either/or

logic of identity: that one is either one or the other, and yet the one and the other are mutually defining, e.g., interdependency conceptually (e.g., the slave must have a master in order to be a slave) and practically (e.g., the master depends on the slave’s labour to sustain his life; the slave depends on the master’s generosity not to take his life)

sometimes this can be benign, as in the sense that each of us needs to feel a sense of belonging, of feeling connected with other human beings and being valued by them, of having a place in the world

sometimes this can be a necessary political or revolutionary step to challenge current power structures

sometimes it can become destructive, particularly when it becomes ideological (i.e., it takes on the character of truth, which no evidence or argument can undermine – an efforts to challenge this “truth” must be stamped out, often violently): to assert the value of the one is to deny the value of the other, which can take on a violent character, such that in order to be the one, one must destroy the other since the other poses a threat to one’s identity, e.g., ethnic cleansing

but if the revolution simply inverts the position of the parties, i.e., the oppressed becomes the new oppressor, then the power relation has not been subverted at all; it has only taken on a new face, e.g., nationalist wars, French revolution, anti-colonial regimes

it can also be directed inward, where the perception of powerlessness and valuelessness is internalized and a community can become self-destructive, e.g., residential school experience consolidation of community around perception of victimhood

shared experience can create a sense of belonging and of common purpose, e.g., Holocaust,

shared experience can be a point of departure for consolidating human resources to bring about social change, e.g., women’s movement, civil rights movement, American Indian movement, gay rights movement, etc.
N.B. egalitarianism for its own sake is a form of identity-thinking: in this case, priority is given to our sameness and difference is seen as suspect, as a threat to social unity (e.g., former Eastern bloc socialism)
So what’s our option here?

politics of difference

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