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The difference in opinion about discrimination is based on different experiences living and working in the world.

We can’t even agree on the reality of discrimination.

“(W)hite Americans believe that racial discrimination has been largely eliminated, while black Americans see present-day discrimination as the primary reason for racial inequality.” Egalitarianism and Perceptions of Inequality by Derrick Darby and Nyla Branscombe of the University of Kansas.

This division in perception is evident in recent US Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action where conservative judges have asserted that discrimination is no longer a problem, while the liberal judges, especially the women, have different opinions. 

“Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grows up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from,” regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”  Justice Sotomayor in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

This difference in opinion is based on different experiences living and working in the world.

For example, women, minorities, and gay employees all believe they must hide who they are in order to display more “executive presence,” which is essentially a euphemism for acting like a white male. See The Authenticity Trap for Workers Who Are Not Straight, White Men by Sylvia Ann Hewlett (Harvard Business Review).

Another recent study revealed that minorities and women must often choose between their own careers and advancing the opportunities of others. When women advocate for more diversity, they are viewed as “less warm” and receive lower performance ratings. When people of color advocate for more diversity, they are “stereotyped as incompetent.”  See People of Color, Women Often Punished for Promoting Others Like Them, study by David R. Hekman, Maw Der Foo, or Wei Yang of the University of Colorado.  

If there was any doubt about whether white males perceive the world differently from just about everybody else, Ferguson should have resolved that. Yet, people still disagree on whether discrimination was involved in Mike Brown’s death.

There is also tremendous disagreement on the causes of inequality. Economically advantaged people believe they achieved their position based on hard work and talent, and that everyone has the same chance to succeed. Economically disadvantaged people believe that circumstances, not choice or hard work, play a large part in whether they can succeed economically. 

We are all very busy justifying our respective positions and blaming everyone else for the situation.

Derrick Darby, a legal philosopher, and Nyla Branscombe, a psychology professor, have a different take. They contend that arguing about the causes of discrimination is an impediment to seeing the problem clearly and taking steps to improve diversity and equal opportunity. Darby explains: “When either side feels like it has to take all the responsibility for a problem, they are less inclined to help fix that problem.”

There will never be agreement on the causes of discrimination, and blaming and assigning fault neither prevents discrimination nor promotes equality.

Instead, we need to start by acknowledging that discrimination is real.

Related Posts:

Diversity: Tampering with Certainty

Diversity: Voices of Discrimination

Diversity: Get Off My Lawn

Diversity: Why Laws Don’t Fix Discrimination

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