Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The inherent unfairness in context-blind "fairness"

I was thinking about all the privileged groups that complain about the "special privileges" that marginalized groups get. Whether it's affirmative action, or trans people getting our own groups, or programs that focus on certain marginalized groups, or tax rates that increase a lot more for the rich... you always hear how UNFAIR it is... how this proves that society has bias for those groups and that white people, men, cis people, abled people, rich people etc are all oppressed...

A very popular sports analogy I've heard about feminism (and can be extrapolated to other marginalized groups) goes something like this:

for the first quarter, one side had to play with both hands tied behind their back and obviously the score got really lopsided... afterwards, they protest and the other side agrees that it's kind of unfair and lets them play with 1 hand free... the score is less lopsided but still really bad, especially combined with the first quarter... after the half, the other side agrees to allow them to play with both hands... after 3 quarters, the score is still really ridiculous... with resetting the score impossible, the losing side asks that they be given extra points to balance the previous quarters... the winning side says that they've been playing with both hands... how can it be unfair?

We all see what this is saying right? (I mean even if you disagree) That one side has been historically wronged, and those wrongs carry on because society doesn't reset just because the rules get changed. Even if for one quarter things are "equal", they hardly are equal in terms of the practical way they affect the people affected by these systems (and I only changed the metaphor to allow for one quarter where they're equal just to address the fallacy that even if we ARE equal (which we're not) it doesn't matter... usually the metaphor has us unequal going into the fourth quarter)

I'd like to change the analogy a bit to illustrate the issues with the complaints people (fundies, social conservatives, TERFs, MRAs, etc etc) have with things created to address societal inequities:

In the first quarter one team had to play with 3 players... in the 2nd quarter they had 4 players... in the 3rd, finally 5... they ask for a score change, and the winning team says "HEY THEY GOT TWO MORE PLAYERS AS THE GAME WENT ON!!! BIAS!!! WHY DO YOU CARE ABOUT THE OTHER TEAM SO MUCH!!??? WE WANT TWO MORE PLAYERS TOO!"

That, in essence, is why the complaints of "SPECIAL TREATMENT" fall flat. It isn't special treatment... it's merely moving towards fairness in a game that's been historically unfair, and has to be addressed MID GAME. In a vacuum, getting extra players is unfair, but in terms of the fact that you started with fewer players, it's not, and the game wasn't played in a vacuum, and neither is oppression.

And life isn't even a game, life is REAL, and life affects REAL PEOPLE, and so this is more important than just some numbers on a scoreboard, this is about REAL PEOPLE'S LIVES and it's all the more important we deal with historical and societal wrongs (and they're related... just as a game's score doesn't reset in between quarters, neither does society just because a generation has passed on.)

Like a team that's been on top and been trained/taught that they're on top, privileged groups don't even notice when the playing field is unfair because THAT'S THE WAY IT'S ALWAYS BEEN. Games are just always played 5-3, what's the big deal? So when that status quo is changed, it seems unfair. They don't see it as adding 2 players to make it 5 on 5, they just see it as adding 2 more players, much like opposition to affirmative action, or higher tax rates, always just point to it in vacuum: "but there's no quota for white people!" "but we get taxed at a higher percentage than poor people!" because to them oppression is the status quo. That's not really their fault, that's how society was taught to them to be, and to many people, that's just how society is. Even to marginalized groups, we're raised that that's just how things are too, it's just easier to finally see it when you're the one who is being negatively affected.

Marginalized groups don't want a rigged game, we just want a chance for our pick and rolls, 3 pointers and zone defenses to make or break us the same as the privileged groups too. The lie is that we don't want to lose, the truth is we just want a fair chance to lose.


  1. I'm going to try that analogy next time my parents get on about the "privileges" First Nations folk get. Great post.

  2. Yeah, I hate the "special treatment" argument. If anything, white cis heterosexual abled people are the ones getting a free pass 99% of the time. Everyone else is either a curiosity or a demon in Western society >.<

  3. Really good argument.

  4. I feel like I deserve to lose, and it's okay if I do.

  5. I like this analogy. Finally I have a way to coherently push back against the "special treatment" argument.

  6. Yes.

    I especially also enjoy the privilege-cookies we get when we recognize that there are only three players to our five.

    "Good for you, recognizing your white privilege! Have a feel-good cookie!"

  7. I call it the Rick Santorum Fallacy, based on Santorum's response to a gay soldier about homosexuals serving in the military.

    The Rick Santorum Fallacy: Regarding granting a marginalized group the same rights everyone else has enjoyed as granting them a "special privilege".

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