“Similarly, while professional hockey is considered to have an under-representation problem, the same is not considered true for the National Football League or National Basketball Association, in which African Americans are very over-represented.”
t is common today to hear that “more diversity is better” or that “diversity is strength” or that diversity results in better outcomes along any number of dimensions. One may also have noticed, however, that this does not always seem to be the case. While one might hear that there is a problem, for example, in surgery because there is a higher proportion (over-representation) of male surgeons than there are males in the population, one does not hear similar things about professions such as public health that tend to be dominated by women. Similarly, while professional hockey is considered to have an under-representation problem, the same is not considered true for the National Football League or National Basketball Association, in which African Americans are very over-represented. I call this “The Diversity Paradox”: In some cases, a lack of diversity is considered to be a negative requiring remediation, while in other cases a lack of diversity is considered to be fine. How can this be?
The answer boils down to the Critical Social Justice (CSJ) or “Woke” perspective and two of its core tenets. The first tenet is oppression, and the second is equity. With respect to oppression, and as I describe in my 2021 book Counter Wokecraft authored with James Lindsay, according to the CSJ perspective, people are ascribed to (and primarily defined by) their group identity. People’s identities are seen as comprising multiple overlapping dimensions relating to skin color, sex, gender, sexual orientation, and the like. Importantly, each of these identities is also qualified as being either oppressed or privileged, as are the intersections of these identities. As a result, women are considered to be (historically) oppressed as are people who are black. Black women are seen to suffer from oppression on account of being black and on account of being women—and then in addition on account of being black women.
White men, on the other hand, are seen as being privileged and (historically) oppressors. Someone’s status as oppressor or oppressed accrues to them by way of their identity. This implies not only that they are recipients of contemporary oppression or privilege but also of historical oppression and privilege. Moreover, the privileged are not only recipients of privilege but are responsible for the implied oppression that such privilege represents—not only currently but historically for oppression imposed by members of their same identity group in the past.
The second tenet is also the goal of the entire CSJ political project: equity. Equity is the retributive redistribution of resources from oppressor (privileged) to oppressed identities. The idea is that any under-representation of an oppressed identity group in any context compared to a reference population is considered to be an indication of discrimination or, indeed, oppression. For example, if fewer than 50.5% of employees at a firm are not women (their proportion in the population of the United States), then this is an indication of discrimination against women. The way to obtain equity is, therefore, to ensure the appropriate representation of each and every identity group, as well as their intersections. Importantly, the appropriate representation is not the representation in a target population but, rather, above their representation in the population. It is for this reason that equity policies increasingly seek to “exceed” or “go beyond” reference population targets. The reason for this is to “redress” historical oppression.
Of course, it is not possible to over-represent some groups while not under-representing others; an over-representation of women necessarily implies an under-representation of men. Because men are seen to be (historical) oppressors it is considered justifiable that they be forced to be under-represented now. It is for this reason that equity is also retributive.
This brings us to the bottom line of The Diversity Paradox and how the paradox is resolved according to the CSJ perspective. It is acceptable to have a lack of diversity if the lack of diversity is caused by an over-representation of a (historically) oppressed identity. If a lack of diversity is caused, on the other hand, by an over-representation of a privileged or oppressor group, it is not acceptable and must be redressed.
Naturally, this is completely contradictory and antithetical to common sense, fairness, and notions of equal treatment. Understanding how to recognize, unpack, and deconstruct such caustic ideas, however, is the first step in being able to reject and combat them.
Charles Pincourt is the pen name of an engineering professor (with a background in the social sciences) at a large North American research university. He maintains a blog dealing with the Critical Social Justice (CSJ) perspective in universities, how it has become so successful there, and what can be done to challenge it.