Sex, Marriage, and Sexuality: December 2005 Archives

Discrimination as Hate

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The Syracuse University Daily Orange has an interesting article about the LGBT group making a list of bathrooms that would be more favorable for transgendered people [registration probably required], particularly so that they know which bathrooms are single-occupant and which have offensive graffiti. I don't want to get into the general issue of why this is or isn't a good idea or what we should think about the transgender phenomenon as a whole. I've commented on some aspects of those things previously. (It's not clear in the article, but I don't think anyone here is advocating making all bathrooms co-ed, since that would surely make many more people uncomfortable going to the bathroom than the current situation.)

What struck me as very strange, though, was a quote from a student:

The directory is a good idea because people should not feel nervous about going to the bathroom," said Sarabeth Schoeneck, an undeclared sophomore in the College of Human Services and Health Professions. "SU claims to be "no place for hate, and people being discriminated against in the restrooms is a form of hate," she said.

This seems to me to be a huge mistake. I think I have a pretty clear idea of what hate is, and I think I could give plenty of examples of when discrimination stems from hate, but the mere fact of discrimination is simply not hate. Sometimes discrimination occurs unintentionally. Sometimes it's from something like residual racism, where someone might have an immediate response of fear or discomfort because of someone else's race even if they rationally cannot stand the fact that they have such a response and really try to overcome it. Yet it might unconsciously affect some of their decisions and actions. Anyone who thinks that sort of discrimination is hate is morally insensitive.

What's even worse is confusing institutional discrimination with hate. Many authority positions are occupied disproportionally by white males, and white males tend to have disproportionally white male friends, both for largely innocent reasons with respect to their own choices. Given these realities, the practice of favoring people you know in hiring has a disproportionate effect on racial and gender lines. Those who aren't white males will tend to be less likely to be hired. That's a simple statistical fact, and this one practice will offer resistance to overcoming discrimination. So an institution or an overwhelming tendency in society can promote discrimination without any intentional discrimination. That seems to me to be exactly the sort of discrimination you might call this. How, then, is it hate? I think we're just so unaccustomed to seeing real hate in these matters that we have to invent it to have something to talk about. What's ironic is that most people making claims like this wouldn't know real hate if it bit them on the leg, and yet it's pretty common in academia. But hatred of those whom it's politically correct to hate doesn't count as hatred, while mindless processes and attitudes people are desperately trying to overcome do.

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