In today’s colleges and universities, ‘progressive stacking’ is recommended to deal with diversity among students. The professor sorts out students according to categories, using criteria of suffering and victimhood.
In this social justice vision, black and Indigenous women are the most oppressed, then white women, then black and Indigenous men, then finally the privileged white males.
A professor then favours the most oppressed, calling first on black and Indigenous women to answer questions, then white women, then black and Indigenous men, while ignoring white men. In this way, each professor does their part in correcting the world’s injustice.
Social justice warriors argue that only minorities have rights, because minorities are victims. The majority no longer has any rights, because it’s the oppressor of minorities and therefore evil.
This view is dominant in major American universities and colleges. Throughout universities, the mainstream media and in the Democratic Party, minorities are increasingly privileged. Reports and policies in these institutions urge that recognition and benefits be directed toward minorities, and that the majority should be neutralized, marginalized and punished.
Social justice discourse is, in fact, a neo-Marxist ideology. It evolved from orthodox Marxism-Leninism’s conflict between the working class and the bourgeois capitalist class. But the idea of class conflict was never appealing to the majority of North Americans. They tended to think of themselves as middle class, with economic prosperity and the prospect of economic mobility.
Social justice’s conflict is between gender classes, sexual identity classes and racial classes: males oppress females; heterosexuals oppress gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, two spirited, etc.; and whites oppress people of colour. The concept of intersectionality is used both to identify multiple oppressions, e.g. for women of colour both race and gender, and to urge alliances among all oppressed categories.
Social justice discourse reduces all people to their census categories. What counts are one’s gender, sexual preference and race, not one’s characteristics as an individual. This reduction of people to a few identifiable categories is not only morally suspect, it’s sociologically suspect.
In North America, it’s not typical that all aspects of status clump together, with upper classes rich, educated, powerful and prestigious, middle classes less so, and working classes poor in all aspects. Rather, different people occupy the educated elite, the religious elite, the business elite, the professional elite and the political elite. Moreover, there’s considerable mobility between these classes. People are poor when they are young and going to school, become richer, then poorer as they move into old age.
Among the so-called oppressed classes there are wealthy segments, highly-educated segments, professional segments and powerful segments: wealthy women, wealthy people of colour, and wealthy gays and lesbians; highly-educated women and people of colour; professional women and people of colour; and women and people of colour who hold elected offices and high appointed offices.
The idea that all women, all gays and lesbians, and all people of colour occupy the same position in society, as victims, is far from supported by the evidence. It’s even more ludicrous to imply that all people in each of the categories – women, gays and people of colour – are all the same.
Social justice suggests victim status is a virtue. Conversely, it identifies ‘oppressors’ as morally inferior. This means alleged victims must be given special advantages while so-called oppressors must be rejected and marginalized. That’s a social justice type of reverse discrimination.
One operational goal is to ensure that all groups are equally represented in all institutions sharing the same social benefits. This fits well with orthodox Marxism’s goal of absolute equality.
But, in practice, it means whites, men and heterosexuals are the ignored, silenced and marginalized so that others can flourish. It also means that majorities must bow to the minorities.
The rule of minorities over majorities violates the well-established democratic principle of majority rule. When something is voted on, the side with the most votes wins.
Complementary to majority rule is the notion of minority rights. In order to avoid tyranny by the majority in a democratic society, rights of all citizens are protected by laws, which can’t be impinged upon by the majority. This is seen, for example, in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But the protection of minorities does not include minority rule or the raising of minority interests above those of the majority.
Treating people according to their gender is sexism; treating them according to their race is racism; treating people according to their sexual identity is bigotry.
That university students are subject to progressive stacking is testimony to both how dominant social justice ideology is in universities and how low universities have sunk in their commitment of individual education and freedom.
I would be deeply ashamed if I thought I had ever treated students as members of categories rather than as the individuals they are.
Should we stand by and enable this sexist, racist and bigoted treatment of people?
Philip Carl Salzman is professor of anthropology at McGill University, senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and fellow of the Middle East Forum.
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