When an acquaintance accused me of being unsympathetic to minorities, I was indignant. I’m a member of a much-maligned minority ethnic group, with which I identify strongly. And both of my children are visible minorities: my son was adopted from Thailand and my daughter was adopted from China.
In this cultural moment, to be unsympathetic to minorities implies the worst sins: oppression of the vulnerable, racism, male supremacism, heterosexuality and Islamophobia. Who but the most egocentric, ethnocentric cynic, or the most self-serving, callous exploiter, or the most fearful, insecure weakling, could be unsympathetic to minorities?
Yet the more I thought about it, the more I agree that I’m unsympathetic to minorities. The reason is that I object to dealing with people in terms of their allocation to gross, demographic census categories. Are we to think of individuals only or primarily in terms of whether they’re a member of one or another racial, gender, ethnic, sexual or religious category?
This is a form a reductionism that disappears the individual into a few general features, implies that this is the most important things about them, advises treating them according to their categories, and divides our society into opposing and conflicting regiments.
Many people take the view that some categories of people are more important than others.
If you say “black lives matter,” you’re on the side of the angels. But if you say “all lives matter,” you’re an evil emissary of white supremacy.
If you say “the future is female,” you’re lauded. But if you say we should be concerned about men’s rights, you are a sexist chauvinist ‘mansplaining,’ and should be silent or be silenced.
If you say, “Allahu akbar” (Allah is the greatest), you’re just expressing the “religion of peace.” If you oppose the importation of sharia law and insist on the separation of church and state, you’re an Islamophobe and racist fascist.
The key to sorting out the good guys and bad guys is identifying victim categories. This oppressor-victim categorization is drawn in the first instance from Marxism, which posits class conflict between the exploited proletariat and oppressing bourgeoisie as the dynamic that will destroy capitalism and establish socialism.
The analysis and encouragement of gender, race, ethic, etc. class conflicts have been labelled “cultural Marxism.” Sociologists, it appears, have convinced us to think of people solely in terms of their census categories, on the one hand, and their victim credentials, on the other.
All of our major institutions have incorporated this oppressor-victim analysis, and are enthusiastically and energetically acting to provide benefits for members of victim categories, and constraints if not outright banishment for members of oppressor categories.
The government of Canada, through the research councils that it funds, under the cover of ‘diversity,’ is pushing for more members of ‘victim’ categories to be recruited and hired, especially the Indigenous and females.
As females now dominate in the social sciences, humanities, education, social work and law, they have put in place a program to bring more females into science. The government had already required that Indigenous be admitted as students and hired as professors, or else funds would be denied.
Don’t imagine that Canadian university administrations had to be dragged to progressive diversity. In fact, now largely dominated by females, university administrations have leapt at the opportunity to bring female dominance to the sciences, whether or not female students are keen.
University administrations across the country are also scrambling to hire Indigenous professors and administrators. The competition is fierce.
What objections could I possibly have to gender, racial, and ethnic student recruitment and gender hiring in order to benefit people in victim categories?
One objection is that the opposite of bigotry is not more bigotry, but fairness. Where once women, Jews, Asians and Indigenes were blocked entirely or discriminated against, now whites, men, Christians, Jews and Asians are discriminated against. This highly illiberal favouritism rejects the fairness of universalistic standards and, instead celebrates ‘good’ reverse sexism, racism and bigotry. Despising people of certain categories in the past have been replaced in the advocacy for ‘social justice’ by despising people of other categories.
We should be very clear that for every female hired because she’s female, a male is not hired because he’s male. For every person of colour hired because he or she is a person of colour, a white person is not hired because he or she is white. For every Indigenous hired because he or she is Indigenous, people with other backgrounds – Asian, Middle Eastern, African Oceanian, South American, or Euro-American – are refused the opportunity to compete for the position.
What we have is structural or institutional reverse racism.
A second objection is that considerations of academic merit and excellence are no longer primary considerations at universities. They are replaced by the ‘social justice’ of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.
A third objection is that, while protecting the rights of minorities is necessary and just, to disregard the rights of the majority to be treated fairly is both unjust and undemocratic.
My most important objection is the inhumane reduction of human beings to gross census categories. What a sad place we have come to when we treat humans not as complex individuals with particular qualities, abilities, values, motivations and preferences, but as uniform members of races, genders, sexualities, ethnicities.
Are all white people the same? Black people? Man? Women? Asians? Gays?
To ask such questions is to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to treat all people according to gross categories.
Should we Canadians be proud that the primary policy of our governments and universities is racial, gender, ethnic and sexual bigotry?
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.