Racism & Sexism


Objective: Discrimination

¨      What is discrimination?

¨      Differentiating between people, or giving preference, on the basis of irrelevant factors

¨      What is the difference (if any) between discrimination and racism or sexism?

¨      Racism (or sexism) is essentially discrimination on the basis of solely racial or sexual differences

¨      Discrimination can be for any (irrelevant) reason

¨      How is prejudice different from discrimination?

¨      Prejudice is (lit) pre-judging, before all the facts are known

¨      Prejudice could lead to correct judgments or incorrect ones

¨      Typically, we think of it in negative terms


Objective: the Principle of Equality

¨      “It is unjust to treat people differently in ways that deny to some of them significant social benefits unless we can show that there is a difference between them that is relevant to the differential treatment”

¨      Does this mean that everyone must always be treated exactly the same?

¨      Clearly, we can treat friends and family differently than we treat strangers without being unjust

¨      Are fairness and justice always the same?

¨      When can we treat people differently? (Aside from friends and family)

¨      We need to show that real differences exist and that they are relevant to the matter being decided

¨      For example:  It is generally unlawful (and unjust) to discriminate against someone just because they are blind or disabled in some way

¨      But we don’t give blind people drivers’ licenses

¨      We don’t hire paraplegics as firemen or policemen or allow them to join the military

¨      In these cases, the differences are relevant to the job or the privilege being sought

¨      Blind people simply cannot drive cars safely

¨      Paraplegics cannot do the job of a fireman or policeman without endangering others

¨      Affirmative Action and preferential treatment

¨      Affirmative action is an attempt to reverse the results of historic discrimination

¨      Some consider it nothing more than reverse discrimination

¨      Can we end the effects of discrimination against one group by discriminating against another?

¨      Can we end the effects of discrimination against one group without discriminating against another?

¨      Consequentialist concerns

¨      At least some affirmative action programs have had good results

¨      Students admitted to some prestigious universities have graduated and proceeded on to postgraduate education at rates equivalent to their white classmates

¨      Some argue the programs have done more harm than good

¨      The group benefiting most is middle-class African-Americans, for example, not the poorest segment of society

¨      The negative effects on others are also a problem

¨      The white male student who is more qualified than his competition, but cannot gain admittance due to affirmative action programs

¨      Nonconsequentialist concerns

¨      Affirmative action programs also raise questions of justice and fairness

¨      How can preferential treatment today right a wrong done 50 or 100 years ago to someone else, e.g.

¨      Should compensatory justice be used to right past wrongs, or is it limited to compensating those who have been wronged?


Objective: On Racism and Sexism: Realities and Ideals, Richard Wasserstrom

¨      Race and sex are socially important categories – they affect how we are perceived and how we act

¨      In an ideal world, how relevant would these be to most situations?

¨      Are there some times when either race or sex is a relevant concern?

¨      Casting an actor to play Martin Luther King in a play, e.g.?

¨      What would a non-racist, non-sexist society be like?

¨      Basic political rights and obligations

¨      Important non-governmental institutional benefits and burdens

¨      Individual social interaction

¨      Can we even have a totally non-racist or non-sexist society

¨      Are there differences that would need to be maintained?

¨      For race, the answer seems to be no

¨      For sex, the result is more ambiguous

¨      Should we have unisex public bathrooms?

¨      Others?


Objective: Reverse Discrimination as Unjustified, Lisa Newton

¨      Reverse discrimination does not redress past wrongs

¨      Justice requires us to root out (unjustified) discrimination

¨      We cannot have a truly free society unless we do

¨      The ideal must be, as Aristotle suggested, equal treatment for all citizens

¨      But reverse discrimination doesn’t provide equal treatment for all

¨      Rather, it encourages, even requires, that some be treated “more equally” than others

¨      The aim is to reverse the effects of past discrimination

¨      How does discriminating against me and in favor of someone of a different race today reverse the effects of discrimination against that other person’s father or grandfather?

¨      Reverse discrimination is itself a violation of justice

¨      How do we define a “minority” that has been discriminated against?

¨      American society is a society of minorities – even WASPs

¨      How will we know when the groups previously discriminated against have achieved equality, and no longer require “assistance”?

¨      “[Reverse discrimination] destroys justice, law, equality and citizenship itself, and replaces them with power struggles and popularity contests.”