In the previous issue of The Cascade, an argument was made that we as a society need to be cautious about providing too many “handouts” to members of historically oppressed groups, with the warning that such decisions tip the scales too far in their favour, leading to “excessive guilt and future mandated inequalities.” I believe this argument comes itself from a place of privilege, however, and doesn’t acknowledge the severity of past and continued oppression against the groups it seems to vaguely refer to.
One recurring point in the article’s subtext is the idea that oppression is over, or at least lessened to the point of being insignificant. The phrase “finding victimhood over historical wrongdoings that either don’t exist in the present to the same extent or not at all” illustrates this, as does the assumption that “the straight white men in the West no longer have certain backwards social ideals.”
Ignoring the implication of some kind of “Western enlightenment,” downplaying the oppression of a whole range of groups as something in the distant past is harmful and erases generations of abuse. Residential schools operated into the 1990s. Victims of sexual assault have to fight to be taken seriously. Wage gaps are real, easily researchable, and significant. Police disproportionately target people of colour. Aboriginal communities are shockingly under-supported by the government. And that’s just a handful of examples, without even getting into what’s boiled up to the surface in the States recently.
These are not problems that just ruin a day for the victims. They can drastically alter (or in some cases end) lives, and while the idealized world of “Anyone can be whatever they want!” sounds great, we aren’t there yet. It’s hard to accumulate the wealth that a capitalist society demands for social mobility when it takes money to make money — you won’t get a high-paying job in most industries without a university or college education, and that costs money that’s hard to come by when you are working multiple jobs and still barely managing to put food on the table most weeks, for example.
And that’s part of why the idea that any kind of affirmative action is a terrible injustice so drastic that it’ll lead to oppression of straight, white, cisgender men is so overblown. The systems in place right now are a first step, but they don’t do even close to enough to undo the harm our society has done to oppressed groups throughout its entire existence. Sure, there may be some scholarships specifically for minorities, but does that offset the fact that, according to American census data from 2017, 63.9 per cent of all Americans owned homes but only 46.8 per cent of minorities did? When the topic of inherited and intergenerational wealth comes up, that is what it means: not trust funds and millionaires, but having a stable home to grow up in, and a likely real estate inheritance in the future.
We live in a society built by white men that privileges white men while colonizing, oppressing, or exterminating everyone else. And we’re making steps in the right direction, but it’ll take generations to undo those deep-rooted systemic biases, and the ways they’ve permeated into countless aspects of our culture at large (social roles, language, art, etc.). Straight, white, cisgender men worrying about being oppressed after literally thousands of years of oppressing others is absurd.
The referenced article says that accepting not just one historically oppressed group, but rather all of them at once, may be “the hardest exercise of tolerance the human race has ever attempted.” That may be true, but it implies that tolerance is something that requires massive effort. On a personal level, it’s as simple as treating other people well. And on a societal level, now that we’re recognizing these injustices more openly, the only option is to try to repair the damages we’ve caused all at once. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Are there groups that society has been unfair to and isn’t acknowledging yet? Almost definitely. But to attempt to slow this progress is just a fear of change. And if your only argument against an equal society is that the Soviet Union committed atrocities, I’d like to direct your attention to all other atrocity-committing societies, which did not value total equality as a primary ideology. One failed attempt does not mean that striving for equality will inevitably lead to atrocity, and not striving for it seems far more likely to have that outcome. Also, the Soviet Union had a bit more going on than just trying to help people who had been previously held back.
The article says that “past hardships don’t grant moral license to impose hardships as retribution . . . it’s best to go forward with your scars and never sink down to the level of those who wronged you,” and I agree with that. If people like me start being torn from our families, enslaved, assaulted, and murdered en masse, all while being told it’s legal and for our own good, then I’ll be all for calling it unjust. But if we’re just trying to make sure people from all walks of life can succeed and be happy? I’d be selfish to say no.
I do want to address that I’m writing from a position of privilege, and understand that I’m not the ideal voice to be taking up space in this conversation — however, I felt it important to publish a response to this article. Speaking as the Opinion Editor, I also want it to be known that this conversation does not need to be over, and input from others is welcome and encouraged.
Image: Simer Haer/The Cascade