Tag Archives: antiracism

Conflicting Visions Diversity and Equity

Words do not define themselves. As vocalized sounds or written letters, apart from a context, they say nothing good or bad. For they have no precise meaning. Consider the word group, diversity, equity, and inclusion. If American culture were not so deeply divided over Critical Race Theory, Social Justice Theory, cancel culture, and the negative reactions to them, hearing the words diversity, equity, and inclusion would not trigger the emotional response that it does.

Two Meanings of Diversity

Apart from that conflict, the idea of gathering a workforce with a diversity of perspectives and a variety of experiences would be considered an important strategy for achieving the goals of academic or business endeavors: discovery, innovation, and efficiency. Everyone knows that “two heads are better than one.” But it is not just a matter of numbers. Different voices challenge and balance each other to produce a better product…as long as diversity serves as a means to fulfilling the mission of the institution. The mission is the principle of unity, the end toward which all the activity aims. Harmony is dynamic, cooperative movement produced by a creative combination of unity and diversity.

However when diversity becomes an end in itself, the original mission is eclipsed or even aborted. Chaos reigns. Social conflict arises when against all common sense diversity is proclaimed to be an absolute value. Since diversity cannot possibly fulfill this role—it would produce total chaos—people begin to wonder what the real agenda is. Diversity must be contained and regulated. If the type and amount of diversity is not regulated by faithful execution of the mission of the institution, who will regulate it and to what end? We begin to suspect that it will be regulated arbitrarily in service of the private interests of now pervasive diversity officers.

Two Meanings of Equity

Apart from our situation of conflict, the word equity would strike a chord in most people similar to that evoked by the words “fairness” or “justice.” Equity pictures a state of affairs in which society’s rewards and punishments are allotted according to what one deserves because of one’s inherent dignity, character, achievements, and abilities—not on the basis of factors that have nothing to do with merit. Perhaps equity would also connote a subtle sense that fairness and justice have to be achieved by resisting the universal human tendency toward selfishness, unfairness, and injustice.*

However, apart from our polarized situation I do not think most people would think that the ideal of equity should be applied to identity groups as collectives because the measures of what one deserves, of what is fair and just—that is, dignity, character, achievements, and abilities—apply only to individual persons and their unique situations. While in the Western world all members of identity groups are believed to possess inherent dignity, individuals within groups differ greatly with respect to character, achievements, and abilities. Ironically, pursuing equity among identity groups creates inequities at the individual level. Social goods are no longer distributed fairly and justly, that is, according to an individual’s deserts as determined by dignity, character, achievements, and abilities.

Rewards and punishments would be distributed proportionately according to group identity. Implicit in this change in how rewards and punishments are distributed is also a shift in the location of the decision making process and enforcement authority. Decisions can no longer be made within the institution on the basis of individual merit and solely in service the mission of the institution, which make sense according to common sense intuitions of fairness and institutional logic. The institutional mission and common sense notions of fairness have been suborned to the external logic of identity group equity backed by government authority.

In the name of equity, fairness and justice—understood as receiving what one is due as measured by dignity, character, achievements, and ability—would be cast aside. Rewards and punishments would be distributed according to an alien principle having nothing to do with individual deserts. The same word “equity” used in different contexts means completely opposite things. One person’s good is another’s evil. What for one person is just is for another unjust. Fairness in one context is unfairness in another. No wonder there is controversy and confusion!

*Note: I am describing something similar but identical to the concept of equity found in common law, which appeals to the ordinary person’s sense of fairness in situations where the legal system seems to be unfair.

To be continued….

Understanding Academia’s Obsession with Race, Gender, and Identity (Part Two)

In the previous essay I promised to complete my description of Theory (or Critical Theory), which is the framework that makes sense of the “crazy talk” about race, gender, and identity we often hear emanating from the modern university. The original postmodernism, with its two principles and four major themes—discussed in the previous post—takes a playful, skeptical, and ironic stance toward all truth claims. It affirms nothing and criticizes everything. Pure postmodernism cannot function as a philosophy for political activism. For it deconstructs everything and constructs nothing. Whereas science aims to describe the world and radical politics wants to change it, postmodernism wishes only to criticize it.

Social Justice Theory as Applied Postmodernism

According to Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, between the 1980s and 2010 race, gender, and identity theorists drew on postmodernism for the critical parts of their activist theories. Theory uses postmodern knowledge principle to create suspicion of the knowledge claims and narratives of the dominant groups in society. And it uses the postmodern political principle to expose the pervasive presence of power in society and its control over what counts as truth and justice. However, in contrast to the original postmodernism, Theory uses postmodernism’s critical tools only against ideologies and narratives it deems supportive of the oppressive forces in society. It does not turn them against the narratives of society’s oppressed and marginalized.* The latter are treated in practice as true and expressive of justice. The former are treated as false and expressive of injustice. Postmodernism’s universal deconstruction of all truth claims, every power center, and each assertion of stable identity, was transformed into a binary order–a new metanarrative–defined by the division between oppressor and oppressed.

*I don’t have space to define the “marginalized.” As the term indicates, the marginalized are defined by what they are not. They are not the dominant group. Look up Cynical Theories in your favorite search engine.

Social Justice Theory as Reified Postmodernism

After 2010, Theory (Social Justice Theory or Critical Theory) confidently asserted the truth of its critique of knowledge and the political order. The mood is no longer skeptical and playful but cynical and dogmatic. Pluckrose and Lindsey speak of this shift as the “reification” of postmodernism. Within the world of contemporary Theory it is presupposed that any moral or scientific justification of the status quo (the oppressors) is merely an ideology originating from desire to maintain dominance over people with marginalized identities. In contrast, narratives that free and empower marginalized people are by definition true. Social Justice Theory is a strange combination of cynicism and dogmatism, which makes sense only as an arbitrary decision to apply postmodern cynicism to the narratives of one group and superstitious credulity to the other. What motivates this seemingly arbitrary decision? Lust for power, guilt, resentment, and envy or passion for justice?

Ironically, because of Theory’s dogmatic assertion that truth and right are always on the side of the marginalized, a marginal identity has become a coveted possession within the Social Justice universe. And the more marginalized your identity, the higher your status in the new order will be. A person’s identity as marginalized is enhanced when it is constructed by the intersection of two or more marginal identities. In a reversal of postmodernism’s universal suspicion of power, contemporary Theory uses its claims of truth and right to demand submission from the heretofore dominant group. Theory, then, flips the social order on its head. The oppressors become the oppressed, truth becomes falsehood, good becomes evil, and right becomes wrong. And there is no arbiter, via media, no common ground. There are only winners and losers.

Classical Liberalism as the Response to Applied and Reified Postmodernism?

As their response to the irrationality and socially destructive effects of Social Justice Theory’s activist and reified postmodernism, Pluckrose and Lindsey urge a return to classical liberalism, that is, to reason, truth, freedom of expression, civil liberty, common humanity, debate, and evidence-based knowledge.

Next Time: I will explain my partial agreement with Pluckrose’s and Lindsey’s proposal and offer a Christian response to the view of freedom common to both postmodernism and liberalism.

Race, Gender, Identity…Oh My

I can already hear you saying to yourself, “Really? You’re going to talk about race, gender, and Identity? Are you crazy? I thought you avoided discussing politics on your blog?” I hear you, and I assure you I am not changing my policy. The problem is that moral issues often become politicized, so that political lines get drawn between partisans based on their stances on moral issues. Since Christianity cannot surrender its moral teaching to the secular order without denying that God is the author of the universal moral law, Christians cannot remain silent on moral issues even if those topics are also matters of partisan political disputes. My discussions of moral issues on this blog will remain apolitical in this sense: I will not argue on theological or rational grounds for a secular public policy. However I would be a faithless theologian, a thoughtless Christian, and a cowardly blogger if I surrendered morality to individual choice or political deliberation.

As I promised in my previous post “What A Year It Has Been,” I want to share my reflections on three books I read this year. Ibram Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, and Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsey, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—And Why This Harms Everybody. I do not plan on doing full reviews of these books. Perhaps I will do that later. I want, rather, to set before you the central arguments of each and then reflect theologically on the issues raised.

Ibram Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist

How To Be An Antiracist is a rhetorically brilliant book. The point of each chapter is woven in and around a compelling autobiographical story. The story draws the reader into the narrative that produces the knowledge claim of the chapter. This technique, I think, fuels the persuasive power of the book. However I found myself needing to disengage my emotions from Kendi’s enthralling story to examine his argument rationally.

The book aims to teach readers “how to be an antiracist.” In the minds of most people racism is one of the ugliest character traits imaginable and racist individuals are rightly discredited from public respectability. So, the average reader opens the book with the expectation of agreeing with the author. After all, how could a person who repudiates the ugly doctrine of racism not also wish to be an anti-racist? As you begin reading the introduction and the first chapter, however, you realize that you and Kendi are working with different definitions of racism. Most people think of racism as a conscious attitude of animus toward a particular racial group and a racist as an individual who harbors such attitudes. A person who does not harbor racial animus and attempts to treat all people regardless of race with equal dignity and fairness is not a racist. This is the common sense view.

Kendi includes the common understanding of racism and the racist character type within his definition of racism, but he expands his definition to include unconscious attitudes and seemingly innocent actions and inactions. For Kendi, racism is the hidden, implicit ideology that justifies the interlocking system of public policies and practices that creates and sustains inequity—that is, unequal possession of life’s (mostly material) goods—between racial groups. A racist is someone who by what they do or what they neglect to do supports this system of policies. An antiracist is someone who refuses to support and actively resists the racist system of policies.

In this way, Kendi shifts the locus of racism from self-conscious attitudes of individual racists to the unconscious system of values, policies, and practices that structures American society. These values and practices include the free market economy, meritocracy, color blindness, and mere equality before the law. All these values tend to perpetuate the status quo and, hence, are racist, according to Kendi’s definition. The evidence for systemic racism is the de facto inequity in income, housing, education, health care, and other measures of wellbeing between white people as a whole and people of color as a whole. Even if no one harbored conscious racist feelings or exhibited commonly identified racist behaviors, this lack would not disprove the racism of the system and those who participate in it. Your feelings of goodwill toward all people do not prove that you are not a racist. Only your active support for public policies that promote equity and your active resistance to policies that sustain inequity qualify you as an antiracist. There is no neutral ground such as might be designated by the term “not-racist.”

In Kendi’s lexicon, racism’s center of gravity has shifted from the moral core of the individual to a diffuse socio-political order. Yet he retains the emotionally loaded moral terms “racism” and “racist” to describe the character of this order. The effect is to make it grossly immoral not to support the political policies that Kendi thinks will best ameliorate the inequities among the races or to lend support to policies and values that Kendi thinks will perpetuate the status quo. Kendi is a bit coy about stating his antiracist political policies in clear terms, but I think we can infer from his criticisms of the free market economy, meritocracy, color blindness, and mere equality before the law that he would favor policies designed to achieve greater material equity among the races even if it means abandoning these principles.

Don’t miss this shift: policy differences arise not simply from different rational conclusions about what means will best achieve agreed upon goals but from profound differences in moral character. To support traditional liberal policies—free markets, merit-based reward systems, individualism, and so on—is a racist act, whereas to support policies designed to produce equity—equality of outcomes—is an antiracist act. The first is morally wrong and the second is morally right. The categories by which to evaluate public policy shift from sound or flawed reasoning to good or evil motives.

I will save my theological assessment of How To Be An Antiracist until I have summarize the other two books.