Social Challenges: Difficult Equality Issues

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These are the issues which are not in the official equalities list, some of which arise naturally from the official issues, and some of which occupy similar territory.  It is probably not an exhaustive list: please identify anything you consider to be missing.

Arising From Equalities Activity

  • The role of outsiders.  To what extent can and should outsiders get involved with the activities of, and the running of, an equalities group?  For example, should a Feminist group welcome men on an equal opportunities basis, or should they be excluded?  Are men incapable of understanding the issues and finding appropriate ways of challenging the status quo?  Is allowing men to take part in the struggle a compromise (suggesting that women need men after all), or is it an obvious and simple way to increase the resources available for the struggle?
  • Internecine warfare.  There are often several groups claiming to be 'the voice' of a specific equalities group.  This can often be seen with race and disability, as there are so many specific racial groups and types of disability, each of which can identify inequalities and injustices which particularly affects them.  And these groups can be quite hostile to each other.
  • Victimhood competition.  Different equalities groups often compete: for funding, for publicity, for priority in the legislation process.  Inevitably that results in some 'we are treated worse than they are' arguments.   And people who belong to one equalities group can be just as prejudiced against members of other equalities groups as anyone else.
  • Cooperation.  On the other hand, it can be easier to argue for justice and funding if different equalities groups cooperate.  And many of the equalities groups face very similar challenges, of exclusion (both deliberate and unthinking), of outsiders thinking they know what you want and what is best for you, of their voices not being given equal weight to that of people in the mainstream.
  • Intersectionality: And there is an increased recognition of the reality of intersectionality - living in the intersection of two or more equalities groups - which leads to additional problems which are not recognized by any of the mainstream equalities groups.  The classic example is that of black women, who face discrimination which has is not been properly recognized by either the racial equality or the gender equality groups.
  • Positive discrimination.  Is all discrimination bad, or is discrimination acceptable if it operates to the benefit of a disadvantaged group?  For example, are women-only short-lists acceptable when selecting a prospective parliamentary candidate?
  • Goal.  It is not clear much of the time where the end goal of our equalities campaigning might be, what it might look like.  This does not matter much when you are campaigning against an obvious injustice (paying women less for the same work, policemen killing black people with impunity, ...), but it does matter once the obvious injustice has been addressed.  The goal is a fair society, but different people have different ideas about what is fair, different groups have different ideas about what a fair world might look like.  Not being allowed an opportunity because of your sex or skin colour is unjust, and not wanting the opportunity may be the unfair consequence of past discrimination, but it may also be a personal choice.  Women tend to have less success in the workplace.  This is in part because they have different priorities (to take one example, women tend to prioritize caring for children more than men do).  How do we measure the effect of this aspect of the situation?  And is this an injustice which should be corrected, or a valid choice which should be respected?  It is easy to say that we are fighting for a fair world, but the truth is that we can't actually agree on what a fair world might look like.  (For more around this question, please see this interview with Jonathan Haidt.)
  • Discrimination.  The use of the term 'discrimination' is problematic in this context: it assumes a negative intention and a negative outcome (unless, perhaps, it is positive discrimination), but in the wider world, discrimination as such - the ability to correctly distinguish real differences - is almost universally a good thing.  The purpose of an exam is to discriminate between the students who understand the subject and those who do not.  The purpose of a medical test is to discriminate between patients who do or do not have a particular condition, so they can receive the correct treatment.
  • Mainstreaming.  How much do we need specialist groups to focus on equalities issues, and how much should these concerns become a normal part of mainstream activity?  This issue arises in many different contexts.  Should there be specialist government departments?  Should one trustee be given special responsibility for equality issues?  Should an equalities review be a standing item on a meeting agenda, or should equalities issues be properly addressed in each of the main agenda items?
  • Dishonesty.  How far can you trust what you are being told?  And what are you not being told?  We need to be able to measure progress towards the goal of equality, diversity and inclusion, but we don't yet even have a framework in which this could be done.  If you have two similar organisations and only one is celebrating its work on promoting greater diversity, how do you tell if this is a reflection of a better cvulture, or just a better PR department?  Diversity Dishonesty is a real issue.

Similar Territory

  • Homelessness.  Homeless people suffer exclusion, discrimination and (at times) explicit persecution, but they ae not treated as an equality group.  To take just one example, a great many services are delivered within geographic borders, but homeless people do not live in or belong to any specific area, so they do not qualify for assistance from these services.  They don't vote, so politicians are not highly motivated to put in place the support they need.
  • Male violence and toxic masculinity.  Women's groups validly identify the extent to which women are subject to male violence, but they often miss the wider context, and the extent to which men are the victims of male violence.  To what extent is this problematic violence part of what it means to be male?  Violence, of course, is not just a human trait: a recent study of mammals killing their own species found not only that males do it far more than females, but also that they usually kill for very different reasons - males to remove competition, and females to defend their young.
  • Education.  Many disadvantaged groups do worse than average in education: to what extent is this a consequence of their disadvantage interfering with the education, and to what extent is it the education system being designed to work well for certain groups?  Boys perform better when exams are used, and girls perform better when continuous assessment is used: how much should this information influence our choice of assessment?
  • Class.  Power runs in families; money, resources, influence and connections are all inherited.  It used to be the case in the UK that certain groups (women and Roman Catholics, for example) were explicitly excluded from positions of power and influence.  These exclusions have now almost disappeared, but much of the current work of equalities campaigners involves seeking to address the impact of their particular issue on poor people - rich people rarely suffer much disadvantage from belonging to an equalities group.  So how much of our current equalities activity is, in reality, a roundabout way of addressing class inequality?


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