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How Gender and Race Relations Could Learn From Gay Marriage


In the past decade the gay rights movement has made tremendous progress while race and gender equality have not moved nearly as much. The key is simplicity.

The Gay Rights movement wants people to be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation. That’s it. It’s simple, and incredibly easy to get behind. In its transparency there is no reasonable rational to hide behind in opposition.

For gender and race it’s much more complicated. Both have extremely deep historical roots so while they are not exactly the same as the struggle for gay rights, there is enough in common that some lessons from one can be applied to another.

There is enough evidence to say pretty clearly that white has an advantage over non-white and male has an advantage over female. I’m confident in saying that the vast majority think this is unfair and if given a choice would support equality. But that’s not the question being asked. What we have now is a mishmash of inequality; a sort of zero-sum game where one group is favored here and another there with the theory that in the end it will balance out. I am talking about institutional systems such as affirmative action (there is a social bias toward whites so therefore if we give an institutional bias toward non-whites everyone is equal). I am also talking about social norms like a man paying for a woman on a date (there is an institutional bias where men tend to earn more than women for the same work therefore a social bias where the man spends more is equal.)

These inequalities are dependent on each other. Perhaps these institutional or social norms began with good intentions but we have outlived them and now they are holding things back rather than pushing them forward. Imagine them in reverse, it’s not just men paying for women because they (statistically) make more money, it’s also men making more money because they pay for women. Rather than a one-way street it’s become a self-justifying loop. Besides the fact that it’s entrenching relations, it also acts to draw attention to the notion that we are different. If the goal is to erase the lines, it does not make any sense to trace them with marker first.

Through this all it’s important to be conscious that while the goal is equality, we all come from different (unequal) places. Being aware of that is necessary; being drown in it is counter-productive.

Race and gender could take a page from the gay rights movement and put the struggle in the simplest terms possible. In practice this means eliminating all social and structural biases, both the deep rooted historical ones as well as the more modern reactions to them. And let’s face it, they are reactionary.

A valid critique is that this is the ideal but ignores the reality. The reality is also that these biases live off of each other and killing one will suffocate its counterpart. It will present the situation in the simplest possible terms.

I anticipate people will disagree, and that’s fine. I may be wrong and would welcome a more effective tract. I’d love to see critiques (or agreement) in comments and will revise or rewrite if I’m convinced to alter the position or information here. I think we can learn from each other is the point.

Edit: Lots of people have shared counter viewpoints. None of which I completely agree with, but many of them have a valid basis. I think I must acknowledge that this is incredibly complex which makes any way forward difficult because no matter what there is bound to be disagreement. But if the very complexity of the issue seems to be stopping any consensus on the way forward, isn’t that in itself an argument for simplification. I should also state that I have an idealistic view of society. If, for example, AA was phased out, I don’t think business’ freed of a quota system would say, “Great, now that I can hire anyone, I’ll let my racism come out.” And if that did happen, it would fail because the quality of the staff would necessarily be lower than average with self-imposed restrictions and I also don’t think consumers would support such a business.

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