Flat White

No, inequality is not discrimination

15 June 2020

5:26 PM

15 June 2020

5:26 PM

A problem misdiagnosed is a problem mistreated. 

Many people today assume without question that all inequality is the result of discrimination. But what if it isn’t? If it isn’t, the treatment won’t work. We’ll create a never-ending story: Search for discrimination, treat it. Measure the inequality, it’s still there? We must have missed some of the discrimination! Search again, fix again. What—we still haven’t fixed inequality? We must be more prejudiced than we thought. By now we are up to “third-wave” treatments, and our search for discrimination is so desperate that we are postulating “unconscious” or “systematic” discrimination—types of discrimination that, like inequality, we can’t solve, because of a wrong diagnosis. 

This is true of racial inequality. You can either solve racism, or you can solve racial inequality. You can’t solve both. 

Ask yourself this: how many people end up in a different economic category than their parents? Though ‘rags-to-riches’ stories do occur, and ‘riches to rags’ stories also occur, they are not common. The majority of people remain in a similar economic condition to their parents. 

Suppose for the sake of argument that in one generation, all people of a specific group are in one economic category. For example, all the people named Smith were ‘working class’ blacksmiths just a few hundred years ago. This would remain substantially true of the next generation also. And the next. The process of dispersing through society takes time because it is a diffusion process. 

This can be true of ethnicities also. There are many countries where all the people of a specific ethnicity were once in a poor economic class, due to historical factors—perhaps from a past history of slavery, or colonisation, or racist policies. This takes generations to diffuse, irrespective of whether there is any continuing racism or not.  

It is a correlation today, from a causation yesterday. 

If you consider racial inequality to be a problem, then you have to accelerate the social diffusion. There are a number of ways. You could subsidise that race’s school-fees. You could allocate quotas for that race’s employment by businesses or appointments to boards.  

Or, if you knew nothing about how the world works, you could just give the people of that race money, rather than a job. This is called ‘giving a man a fish’ and it is worse than leaving him to fend for himself (after all, if you’d left him alone he might have discovered how to fish on his own instead of becoming simultaneously well-fed and incompetent and probably hating himself and hating you more). 

But any of these policies – the ones that might work and the ones that don’t – require a decision made on the basis of race. That’s why you can’t solve racial inequality and racism, because solving racial inequality requires racism. Simples. 

Of course, if being in the poorest income bracket is indeed a problem, then why wouldn’t you solve it for all the poor people, instead of discriminating between them on the basis of race? This is also simple: You say,Black homelessness is a problem.” I reply, “Is being black a problem?” You say, “Of course not.” I say, “So homelessness is the problem. 

You say, “good point”. 

In fact, most western countries have practiced deliberate systemic racism to try and correct racial inequality. This is called positive discrimination and appears to have been effective. Or perhaps diffusion has just followed its natural cause. Either way, if we take the USA as an example, that country has elected a black President (twice) and black members of their congress, which has a black caucus, and they have black multi-millionaires. Like Kanye West. But, as any sensible person would expect, reducing racial inequality has not entirely eradicated racism any more than the reverse would have happened. First, because it has required racist systems which can have the side-effect of promoting division. Second, because the USA is full of individuals—330 million of them in fact—who have independent brains, which cannot, by any force known to man, be coerced into not being racist. 

Unfortunately, a lot of people have convinced too many other people in the west that inequality is, always and only, a result of prejudice and hence racial inequality is an infallible indicator for racism, (and sexual inequality is an infallible indicator of sexism). Consequently: a) inequality is a moral problem, and b) because it would take generations to remove racial inequality that currently exists, and because we will never remove sexual inequalities for the simple reason that men and women are, in fact, different: the problem of prejudice can never, ever be solved. 

Or can it? The only immediate solution to removing racial inequality would be to remove all inequality socialism. And the people who teach that all inequality results from prejudice, are the same people who believe that that would be a good idea – i.e. socialists. Often race wars are class wars in disguise. Put it this way. They say “White privilege is a problem.You say, Are you saying being white is a problem?” Unless they’re racist, they say, “Of course not.” Then you say, “So privilege is the problem?” 

So should we be surprised when “race protests” involve looting—particularly stealing expensive clothing and televisions, just like the London riots? 

The black Americans I’ve seen who claim that they are not victims of racism and refuse to see themselves that way – such as Kanye West and Candace Owens – are on the political right. The left cannot see the world without racism because they observe collective inequality. Those on the right can see the world that way because when they observe individual freedom. The political left does not have a solution. 

I do not wish to pretend that inter-racial conflicts are straightforward. Racial differences are real; the curse of Babel was disunited the world. Once we separate racism from racial inequality, however, we have a chance to look at each issue and understand them both better.  

With regards to this, I can only present my personal cogitations on the matter.

Is everyday racism a significant problem in our society? When I meet someone with a given skin colour for the first time, I make an estimation of their likely ethnicity, and it may affect how I interact with them. Initially. Someone with different appearance will doubtless experience presumptions being made about them. But it’s hardly a systemic catastrophe or even evidence of it. I cannot believe that large-scale race issues are the aggregate effect, or even the extreme version, of these so-called “micro-aggressions”. 

How relevant is culture? It’s a barrier, sure. It is difficult to understand someone with a different culture than yourself; and difficult to interact seamlessly with someone with a different accent, vocabulary, or worldview. But it is far from impossible; in my work with universities, the researchers I meet are so diverse that I am surprised if I ever encounter two who were born in the same country as one another. And yet we all get along well enough. We might eat different foods when we go home at night, and wear slightly different clothes, but I find that our cultural differences are weak forces compared to personality factors interests. Culture doesn’t spark animosity without a cause. 

What about community? I think that is where we find a perspective worth taking. The word itself means with unity. A community is a group who align themselves with one another around a common interest. While cultures are adjectives, communities are nouns. A community has a boundary. It has qualifications for entry. Communities have interests, and hence those interests can conflict with other communities. And when the interests of a community are threatened, it’s all for one and one for all. 

Unfortunately, it is human nature to blame others for our problems. Consequently, it is community-nature to find unity through having a common enemy more readily than a common friend. “Them versus us” is easier to justify than “you versus me”. 

Have you seen videos of Chinese people hoarding powdered milk? Were you angry? Were you angry because they were Chinese, or because their community was hoarding something that your community needed? 

Governments don’t need to worry about casual or unintentional racism. They don’t have to protect our feelings – we can protect them ourselves thank you very much. And I would argue that they don’t need to conserve any cultures either we can do that by ourselves too. But the interests of communities need to be understood and interacted with, at the local level.  

Democracy works when one large community elects and funds its own government and its own police. We are all interested in Australia’s wellbeing and governance. We can’t afford for any community to develop which is not invested in our democracy or have conflicting interests from the rest of our society – whether that community is defined by race or not. 

Nick Kastelein is a Christian and a conservative who grew up and lives in Adelaide where he works for an engineering consultancy.

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