Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why I Believe in Affirmative Action

1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.
2. I can be confident that my co-workers won’t think I got my job because of my sex - even though that might be true. (More).
3. If I am never promoted, it’s not because of my sex.
4. If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.
5. I am far less likely to face sexual harassment at work than my female co-workers are. (More).
6. If I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job.

- The Male Privilege Checklist, Alas, a Blog

The Male Privilege Checklist, that I have quoted from above (and link to in the links section to the side of this blog) is a piece inspired by Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack produced by Alas, a Blog.

I mention this today because, according to the BBC, "[t]he Association of Chief Police Officers are to discuss plans to give ethnic minority and female candidates for the police preference over white, male recruits." The outcry is predictably depressing. Interestingly, I can't find a single liberal/left-wing newspaper who is covering this today. The Daily Mail has, though.

It seems rare that anyone is speaking up in favour of positive discrimination today. It's too easy to ignore it, to avoid the issue and thus avoid being seen as 'PC'. For the record, I have no problem with political correctness. I'm proud to be PC. In the olden says, we used to call it 'sensitivity'.

The assumption that anyone who has benefitted from affirmative action is inferior to the white heterosexual male who 'should' have gotten the job is offensive, and ignores the fact that race, gender and sexuality do play a part in the lives of these men. The fact that an acknowledged need for a diverse police force is being described as 'racist' by certain (moronic) sections of the population is an indication of how far we have to go. The fact is that women and people from an LGBT or BME background are not getting as far as they could because discrimination is still practised in British society.

I recognise the difficulties here - how do you measure whether someone has benefitted from the current system of privileging a certain race, a certain gender, a certain sexuality or religion? Well, acknowledging that it occurs would be a good start.

I've both benefitted and been discriminated against because of who I am. I may be female and queer, but I'm still white, middle-class and well-educated. In fact, given that I work in the public sector, defining as a lesbian may have helped - my sexuality is literally written all over my CV, given that I've done a lot of volunteer work within LGBT activism. But there will also have been times when I've missed out on opportunities because of that - a recruitment agency recently agreed that I probably wouldn't get taken on by a charity with a religious background, even if I wanted to. And I've benefitted from my whiteness and my class status immeasurably - to the extent that I take it for granted. And it isn't fair. The only way I can change that is by lobbying for other people - all other people - to get the same chances I have had. And that means quotas, that means affirmative action, it means acknowledging that the people the media are defining as 'the norm' in the police force/teaching professions/government have gotten where they are because of their own brand of positive discrimination. It doesn't mean fighting twice as hard to be taken half as seriously.

Speaking at Otelia Cromwell Day in 2002, a day devoted to race awareness at Smith College in the US, Paula Giddings said that "In a community … we're not all going to think alike," she said. "We don't have to construct diversity; we just have to deconstruct its barriers". I don't want to get a job and spend my time worrying whether or not I got it because I'm white. I want to know that I'm the best candidate - or that there were candidates from backgrounds different than mine who not only were better than me, but who got the chance to show it.

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