Friday, October 01, 2010

Some Group Differences are Due to Privilege. Some Are Not.

If diversity means anything, it means that different groups differ at least a little in what they want and in what talents they bring, as well as in how they are treated by others.

Privilege is real - some groups have unearned advantages over others, which does increase the chance that people like that will be disproportionately represented among those in power.

But it is also the case that different groups want different things, or more exactly, the proportions of people who want some outcome will not be identical in each group.

It is also true, but harder to pin down, that different groups bring a different mix of skills and talents to life. This difference has to have some effect on the proportion of people from each group who end up doing one thing or another.

It is certainly the case that the group of people in positions of power are disproportionately from privileged groups. But privilege is only part of the reason. To say otherwise, to say that all groups have an exactly equal desire and exactly equal ability to achieve all outcomes is simply false. Worse, it is condescending and imperialist to assume that all groups - all cultures and subcultures - desire exactly the same things equally.

In the discourse about privilege, to assume that the privileged are disproportionately powerful solely because we are privileged is itself an act of unwarranted privilege.


Michael Kruse said...

Interesting post. This also brings to mind the question of how we earn what we have. Sometimes we accomplish things and then we are rewarded for our performance. Other times we receive some advantage and the reception of that advantage obligates us to earn it. The movie Private Ryan is a prime example. Ryan lives his life to earn the sacrifice made by his comrades that he might live. Whenever we have privilege or advantage we should still be earning it.

Gruntled said...

The "Saving Private Ryan" example is an excellent way to think about the obligations of privilege. Thank you - that'll teach.

Anonymous said...

"For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." -- Luke 12:48

pat said...

"For even when we were with you, this we commended you, if any will not work, neither let him eat." 2 Thessalonians 3:10

Whit said...

Gruntled, that was thought provoking.

I wonder though, are there any studies which distinguish the amount of group differences (in say wealth/power) between different races/ethnicities which are attributable, on the one hand, to racism/privilege and, on the other hand, to voluntary differences/cultural choices? Or to put the question another way, are group differences primarily the result of racism/privilege or of bad choices by the poor in, for example, quitting school, joining gangs, having children outside marriage, etc.

The other interesting point you make is that some “sub-cultures” or groups within our larger culture desire different things, or the same things in different proportions. This leads to two questions. First, culture is learned behavior, not genetic. So should we be assigning racial/ethnic names/identities to cultural groups? Does the racial/ethnic naming convention not put unfair pressure upon those of a particular racial/ethnic background to conform to the racial/ethnic identity or stereotype - that is become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Does it not assume, rather than prove, that group differences are due to privilege/racism rather than to the cultural differences to which you refer? And second, if, indeed, some groups value wealth highly, while other groups value leisure, is it fair and “just” to “redistribute” wealth from the former to the latter?