Intent is not the Point: Incredible (and Humorous) Explanation of How Oppression Actually Works

Ok, so I had to post the essay below. A friend of mine told me about it yesterday, and it is an epic and appropriately snarky piece that completely demolishes the notion that intent is what matters when it comes to evaluating oppression. I’ve been arguing this point recently with white liberals, who seem to think that if they don’t mean to be racist, then their actions (like some of the ones I mention in the piece from last week on racism and white privilege on the liberal-left), can’t be judged as racist. But whether the issue is racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, or (as this piece discusses primarily) transphobia, intent is not the point. We have to look at consequence.

And so, here, for your enjoyment (or not), is the essay in question: “Intent! It’s Fucking Magic!” (for those who don’t like the language, I’m sorry, but I didn’t want to edit it, since this is someone else’s work. And anyway, sometimes words fit…This is one of those times)


30 Responses to “Intent is not the Point: Incredible (and Humorous) Explanation of How Oppression Actually Works”

  1. Interesting post but exactly how far does this intent thing go? I agree with the majority of what was said, but the absolutist terms by which the author seems to judge the consequences of others’ actions, regardless of intent, seems draconian. To sum it up if a butterfly flaps it wings in China and causes a hurricane that hits New Orleans, how responsible is butterfly for the deaths of those New Orleanians? After all, it wasn’t the butterfly’s intent to kill a thousand people, in fact it doesn’t even know that those people exist, and it has no understanding of the mechanism by which it can generate such awesome forces. To clarify, I am not being a leftist apologist, as I believe that the criticisms leveled at the left in terms of racism by you (Tim) are the most accurate I have seen (it’s like you were reading my mind), but I also believe that once we become terribly insensitive to the intent of anyone (good or bad) we begin to create the exact same issues that we criticize now.

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  2. Simple, Nomada. We are responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions. We are also responsible for cleaning up the mess of our actions to the best of our ability, whether the mess was predictable or not. People use the intent excuse after they’ve just used the N-word, or offended someone, or kicked them out on the street, as the article listed. The butterfly couldn’t have predicted the hurricane. Dr. Laura could have predicted that saying the N-word to a black woman was a bad idea.

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  3. It is indeed silly if not outright moronic to spew truly hateful, bigoted statements like those in the article and then try to evade responsibility by saying “Oh, but I never meant to hurt anyone”. That’s obvious enough.

    However, I do question the absolute premise that intent is “never the point”. There is entire anti-discrimination lawsuit industry now stemming from the concept of “disparate impact”. This basically means that any employer/landlord etc can be sued for discrimination without having to prove any discriminatory intent. Once it can be shown that their workforce/tenants have disproportionately low number of members of protected class (relative to their proportion in general population), their policy/procedure/test are assumed be discriminatory. The burden of proof then shifts to the defendant. Now they have to prove that the procedure in question serves “immediate legitimate business interest”. That is no easy feat. And even if they succeed, it is not over. Then they have to prove that there were no alternatives which would not have resulted in “disparate impact”.

    Keep in mind that economic justification won’t do: the fact that alternatives (or even the process of looking for and evaluating them) would be cost prohibitive is not a defense.

    It certainly possible for a racist entity to use policies which are neutral on their face to engage in discrimination and it does happen. It is still a big leap to deal with it by presuming everyone guilty of discrimination until they prove otherwise. In what other area of law do we presume guilt until defendant proves otherwise?

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    Tim Reply:

    guilt is not presumed…burdens shift but they are not onerous, and you misstate them…once a showing of disparate impact is made (and it is not done just because the percentage is less than the population: the disparity typically has to be significantly below the available numbers of persons in a geographic are who are qualified for a position–that is what availability analysis presumes, and these cases are rarely brought, as courts make proving them difficult, which is why intent cases are more common) the person being accused has to show a legitimate business interest. But most are able to do this pretty easily actually. But if they can’t why shouldn’t the standard/policy be thrown out? Just because they are the “property owner” and should get to set the rules? Please.

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  4. Overall, the article promoted by Mr. Wise is really rather unoriginal. The entire rant is summed up in the popular saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The author fails to grapple with the issues of intent. A volcano erupts and kills 1,000 people. No intent, no foul. If intent doesn’t matter, then when one of the 9-11 hijackers plows a building into a tower (he never intended to collapse the tower anyway) he’s the mathematical equivalent of three of the aforementioned volcanoes, and nothing more. Fine, pick a less politically contentious issue – like serial killers (Cunanan, Wuornos, Gacy, etc.) or Nazis, or Pol Pot or Hutus and Tutsis or Stalin in the Ukraine. The argument is the same. The author’s logic is simple-minded and specious. Big dislike on this article.

    Finally, what the author fails to grasp in the notion of intent is the capacity for change and education. If someone says a racist (or anti-transsexual) slur and intends it, they are pretty clear on what they want to say and who they know they are hurting. If someone says it in ignorance (which I’m not excusing if it’s WILLED ignorance), there is potential for enlightening them, reasoning with them, getting them to see things from another point of view.

    Normally I support Mr. Wise’s thoughtful articulations of race and culture. On this point, of advocating this specious reasoning, I call him out on not thinking through the implications of the argument he advocates.

    (Final note: I hope Mr. Wise can distinguish between willed ignorance and imposed ignorance. Between the two lies a vast gulf of intent which makes the difference between good and evil.)

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    Tim Reply:

    no one disputes the difference between willed ignorance and learned ignorance, nor is the author of that piece saying intent is irrelevant. They are saying, and I agree, that intent is not the basis for determining if an injury happened, and it should not become a cloak that allows a person to escape accountability for what they do. That’s all, but it matters: enlightening people about their ignorant act or comment doesn’t let them off the hook for what they did or said

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  5. Hey, thank you for the linkage, but I’ve moved my blog. Kinsey Hope’s essay is now located here:

    http://www.questioningtransphobia.com/?p=2094

    And on her own blog here:

    http://genderbitch.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/intent-its-fucking-magic/

    I’m taking the questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com blog down at the end of August so google will notice my new site. Also, no comments on the old blog will be approved out of moderation.

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    Tim Reply:

    hey thanks for the tip…should I re-post it then with the new link so it doesn’t get lost in a few months?

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  6. To answer NomadaNare,

    The point is that a lot of people try to claim that no pain should be caused because they didn’t intend to cause pain, throwing the burden of dealing with busted comments back onto the marginalized person who had to deal with the comments in the first place. What this means is “What you meant is not as important as what you did” and deal with it in terms of impact not what you were thinking.

    IMO, if I hurt someone and I didn’t mean to, that’s definitely a damned good time for an apology, not time spent protesting my innocence and causing further pain.

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  7. Also, butterflies in China causing hurricanes halfway around the world are not akin to people saying oppressive things to my face, you know? It’s not just a random act of violence, but something they chose to do. And unlike a butterfly, I can ask them to stop.

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  8. Grigori0: “The entire rant is summed up in the popular saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

    Given Tim’s take on the piece, I’d say the piece is summed it fairly well by one of my sayings addressing the same mindset:

    “Intent don’t mean shit to consequences.”

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  9. Dear Tim,

    Thanks for the response. I think we both agree: There’s a difference between manslaughter and murder. Where we (you and the author versus myself) may differ is that I believe the difference is a VERY significant difference. The author does not seem to agree that there should be a difference between manslaughter and murder. I hold the author to be grievously mistaken. We need to look beyond actions TO intent, frankly. Or, to quote T.S. Eliot (from The Cocktail Party):

    “If we all were judged according to the consequences
    Of all our words and deeds, beyond the intention
    And beyond our limited understanding
    Of ourselves and others, we should all be condemned.”

    Every ACTION we take has infinite consequences. Even in the realm of intent we are complex creatures, harboring multiple intents simultaneously. But that is something, one small thing, about which we can be sure of ourselves. Not only does intent matter – it is ESSENTIAL to our humanity, to our compassion.

    I fully agree with you that scoundrels often hide behind the *false* barricade of intent (“I didn’t mean to offend you”), and that innocent actions may tragically cause great harm – just ask any parent who has killed their child while backing up over them in the driveway – intent is THE critical factor in assessing the good overall aspects of the moral equation. This is my primary objection to levelling charges against individuals who are implicated in institutional racism (assuming their implication is innocent and not willful). It results, logically, in blaming blacks for their own slavery, Indians for their own extinction, etc. The discussion here is fundamentally about institutional racism and justice (not the extreme forms of manslaughter and murder – though they are directly linked). To ignore intent, or even diminish it to insignificance is, to me, a grievous error.

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  10. “But if they can’t why shouldn’t the standard/policy be thrown out? Just because they are the “property owner” and should get to set the rules? Please.”

    Well… actually, yes. At least, in a free society. And proving “legitimate business interest” is far from easy. Intent cases are LESS common than disparate impact precisely because they are hard to prove – the burden of proof remains with the plaintiff, as it should. From plaintiff’s attorney POV disparate impact is low cost endeavor. All they need is to hire a statistician or sociologist to juggle the numbers (what you refer to as “availability analysis”. After that, it is up to defense to hire multiple experts find studies, etc trying to prove both that there was legitimate interest and they could not find “better” alternatives. On the other hand, proving actual racist/discriminatory intent is a different game altogether. Recall what OJ’s defense team had to dig through – and they were supposedly the best game in town. It worked – and they deserved every penny they earned because they worked hard. This is how it should be

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    Tim Reply:

    You are just wrong NY LIbertarian. IMPACT cases are the more difficult and costly. The stats needed to win a case like this are difficult and have to involve lots of data points, not just a comparison of local population numbers compared to persons of color in a given company, etc. I know, I’ve been involved in cases like this before as a consultant/expert witness and they are difficult. This is why most cases a) are not impact, but treatment cases, b) most judges put the cases in that category, even if the attorney is trying for an impact case, and c) most cases are hard enough to prove that in the end, the cases are not won.

    As for the presumption that the property owner should be able to do anything they want, that is a recipe for entrenched un-freedom for those who don’t have property, and recall, it’s not by accident or historical coincidence that some have and others don’t: inherited advantage and disadvantage in that regard (especially regarding assets and wealth) have had a huge racial impact, as Oliver and Shapiro discuss in their book, Black Wealth/White Wealth. Your thinking here would cement injustice: by allowing folks to discriminate at will just because they have “stuff” and hoping that the market will solve it all in the end, which of course it won’t.

    I do not really want to get into an extended discussion here about libertarian theory though. I have addressed this in a couple of previous essays, which are in the archives though, and which explain my thinking on this matter. If you search under “libertarian” in the search box on the bottom of the page, right hand side (I think), they should come up…thanks

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  11. LOVE Kinsey Hope; she does great work and I hope more people than not see what you saw in this piece, Tim!

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  12. Please do. I probably should have taken it down sooner, but I’ve been procrastinating on things to make the deletion more painless.

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  13. And thank you. 😀

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  14. “However, I do question the absolute premise that intent is “never the point”. There is entire anti-discrimination lawsuit industry now stemming from the concept of “disparate impact”. This basically means that any employer/landlord etc can be sued for discrimination without having to prove any discriminatory intent. Once it can be shown that their workforce/tenants have disproportionately low number of members of protected class (relative to their proportion in general population), their policy/procedure/test are assumed be discriminatory. The burden of proof then shifts to the defendant. Now they have to prove that the procedure in question serves “immediate legitimate business interest”. That is no easy feat. And even if they succeed, it is not over. Then they have to prove that there were no alternatives which would not have resulted in “disparate impact”.

    Keep in mind that economic justification won’t do: the fact that alternatives (or even the process of looking for and evaluating them) would be cost prohibitive is not a defense.

    It certainly possible for a racist entity to use policies which are neutral on their face to engage in discrimination and it does happen. It is still a big leap to deal with it by presuming everyone guilty of discrimination until they prove otherwise. In what other area of law do we presume guilt until defendant proves otherwise?”

    In many of them. We call it “res ipsa loquitur”. And motive is actually moot for many crimes. The distinction between motive and a lack of motive is the difference between manslaughter and murder, not murder and innocence.

    It’s also inaccurate to say that this is “innocent until proven guilty”. Rather, it’s saying that criminal intent, mens rea, is moot. People still have to prove that there WAS discriminatory impact.

    And in most situations, discriminatory intent is the standard. Discriminatory impact lawsuits are few and far between. Hell, given the amount of widespread discrimination in most fields of life, it is staggering that there’s not far, FAR more legal action.

    I think the point is that those like Dr. Laura don’t get away with claiming good or neutral intent.

    “Overall, the article promoted by Mr. Wise is really rather unoriginal. The entire rant is summed up in the popular saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The author fails to grapple with the issues of intent. A volcano erupts and kills 1,000 people. No intent, no foul. If intent doesn’t matter, then when one of the 9-11 hijackers plows a building into a tower (he never intended to collapse the tower anyway) he’s the mathematical equivalent of three of the aforementioned volcanoes, and nothing more. Fine, pick a less politically contentious issue – like serial killers (Cunanan, Wuornos, Gacy, etc.) or Nazis, or Pol Pot or Hutus and Tutsis or Stalin in the Ukraine. The argument is the same. The author’s logic is simple-minded and specious. Big dislike on this article.”

    The problem is that the difference between volcanoes and 9/11 isn’t intent. It’s the ability to make decisions, period.

    More accurately is the difference between someone who accidentally shot someone and someone who maliciously shot someone. Both will likely face civil and criminal action.

    The simple maxim is that we’re responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions.

    And the simple point is that merely claiming good intentions after you’ve insulted someone, or hurt them, or acted to harm them in some way, as many racists do, is a facile copout. People who really care about what they did take responsibility for their mistakes.

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  15. It’s been 15 years, and you’re still bemoaning the Simpson acquittal?

    Meanwhile, cops murder innocent black people but get off because they thought they saw a weapon or thought they heard someone yell gun or even, intended to shoot the stun gun not the real gun even though the suspect has in handcuffs?

    Intent is the defense of children, ie, “I didn’t mean to spill grape juice on the carpet.” Which is precisely why they’re not allowed to use the “big people’s” cups in the first place. Or, if your teen tells you s/he didn’t intend to break curfew; or, didn’t intend to text while they were driving; or, didn’t intend to drink and drive mean you’re not going to revoke their driving privileges? Where I come from, doing something unintentionally is all the more reason to revoke some privileges: you’re just not ready for the responsibility.

    Maybe that’s what it boils down to? Maybe whites aren’t ready for the responsibility of deciding what is and what isn’t racist and dicriminatory, and what should be done to correct insistant injustice.

    Well actually, no maybe about it. In a society steeped in white supremacy, business owners are bound to come across some evaluative tool that appears neutral but really isn’t. If you can’t afford to ensure that you don’t discriminate, you can’t afford to be in business. While I’m not sure how much money business owners lose fighting false charges discriminatory impact (and actuallly doubt they lose any much less anything signficant), I do know that millions of dollars are lost to the black community every year due to racism and discrimination.

    White America has been told year after year after year of the persistance of racism, yet the idea is mocked and a few states have even repealed affirmative action laws. No discriminatory intent? Sure could’ve fooled me.

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  16. “As for the presumption that the property owner should be able to do anything they want

    Wait a second, I did not say owners should be able to do “whatever they want”. I was referring to the fact that it seems strange in this particular case that the burden of proof abruptly changes to the defendant, whereas usually it is up the party which brings the lawsuit to do so (“The People” in criminal cases, plaintiffs in civil ones).

    “that is a recipe for entrenched un-freedom for those who don’t have property, and recall, it’s not by accident or historical coincidence that some have and others don’t”

    I think you are implying here that all the “haves” have what they have due to racism/white privilege. I am sure there are those who do. But, silly me, I thought that one’s hard work and business acumen might also something to do with it… a tiny bit.. sometimes… No?

    “I do not really want to get into an extended discussion here about libertarian theory though. I have addressed this in a couple of previous essays, which are in the archives though, and which explain my thinking on this matter. If you search under “libertarian” in the search box on the bottom of the page, right hand side (I think), they should come up…thanks”

    I actually did read them, Tim. I guess you are right: we gotta agree to disagree on that issue. I do have to say, though, that in those essays you present a rather simplistic, primitive description of what Libertarianism actually says or stands for.

    “In many of them. We call it “res ipsa loquitur”. And motive is actually moot for many crimes. The distinction between motive and a lack of motive is the difference between manslaughter and murder, not murder and innocence.”

    Frederick: res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”) was developed in negligence/malpractice area of law and to apply it to labor law was a huge legal leap. You are correct in describing the “motive” difference between murder and manslaughter. Note, however, that it is STILL up to prosecution to prove that defendant killed someone. And the only circumstance I’m aware of where presence of mens rea (“evil intent”) is moot is the insanity defense. Defendant does not deny he did the crime (actus reus) but asserts absence of mens rea due to mental disease or defect. It this case, it is up to defendant to prove his insanity, but that’s because he is the one asserting it.

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  17. “Frederick: res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”) was developed in negligence/malpractice area of law and to apply it to labor law was a huge legal leap. You are correct in describing the “motive” difference between murder and manslaughter. Note, however, that it is STILL up to prosecution to prove that defendant killed someone. And the only circumstance I’m aware of where presence of mens rea (“evil intent”) is moot is the insanity defense. Defendant does not deny he did the crime (actus reus) but asserts absence of mens rea due to mental disease or defect. It this case, it is up to defendant to prove his insanity, but that’s because he is the one asserting it.”

    I agree, but notice how even with res ipsa loquitur you have to prove that SOMETHING happened, some act happened to speak for itself.

    So in discrimination impact cases, people have to prove there IS impact. You admitted that but then erroneously claimed that this was different from any other field of law.

    Frankly, I think that, if discriminatory impact can be proven (to an appropriate legal standard, and we can debate about what that standard should be), then intent should not be a way to get off the hook. We both agree that there is precedent for such an approach. However, I also agree that if discriminatory intent is proven, that should WORSEN the blow. So if a company can plausibly claim good intent (and this should go by the reasonable person standard, so that a reasonable person could have acted with good intention in the way that they did even if it was erroneously), that should be a way to REDUCE the

    “And the only circumstance I’m aware of where presence of mens rea (“evil intent”) is moot is the insanity defense. Defendant does not deny he did the crime (actus reus) but asserts absence of mens rea due to mental disease or defect. It this case, it is up to defendant to prove his insanity, but that’s because he is the one asserting it”

    Well, res ipsa loquitur. Intent is irrelevant in such cases. Also, you have to remember that in law, intent is specifically defined. You can’t just say, “I didn’t mean to hurt that person” when you drove drunk. A reasonable person would not have done so. Similarly, in self-defense claims, the standard is what a REASONABLE person would have assumed about the threat. If your claims are sharply at variance with that, then we assume that you either acted callously or are lying about your intentions.

    So when a company in a community that’s 30% black has a 1% representation rate, and they claim to use that it’s just so hard to find qualified black applicants, and we prove that there were plenty, I think that we can fairly dismiss their claims that they weren’t discriminating intentionally as BS.

    Anyways, it seems that you accept all of these standards as generally reasonable, so I fail to see your objection.

    “Wait a second, I did not say owners should be able to do “whatever they want”. I was referring to the fact that it seems strange in this particular case that the burden of proof abruptly changes to the defendant, whereas usually it is up the party which brings the lawsuit to do so (“The People” in criminal cases, plaintiffs in civil ones).”

    See, that’s the thing, no it doesn’t.

    The plaintiff has to prove that discrimination HAPPENED. They have to have sufficient evidence to please the court.

    AFTER that, the defendant DOES have to prove that it didn’t. It’s just like an affirmative defense: The defendant DOES have the burden of proof now.

    It’s a myth that the defense never has the burden of proof.

    I have never once heard, and I suspect you can’t find, a case where the plaintiffs just SAID “Discrimination happened, prove that it didn’t” and the defense had to prove a negative. What happens is that plaintiffs allege discriminatory impact and cite reams of evidence to prove it. Companies then claim good intent or debate the facts, but that’s not shifting the burden of proof.

    “I think you are implying here that all the “haves” have what they have due to racism/white privilege. I am sure there are those who do. But, silly me, I thought that one’s hard work and business acumen might also something to do with it… a tiny bit.. sometimes… No?”

    Actually, it’s always a mix. To be white in our society is 99.9% of the time an advantage. So to be white is to have white privilege. When I go to a job interview, I don’t have to do anything special to have white privilege. I just do.

    Basically, both white and black folks have plenty of talent, intelligence and hard work distributed among their members. But for people of color, or women, or the poor, that talent, intelligence or hard work is going to take them less

    Tim points out an example in White Like Me. In it, he describes a self-made man who he actually admits did struggle against pretty severe odds and made it despite those odds. Impressive enough, right?

    Except the guy got accused, falsely, of raping a woman in the South.

    Now, the guy did spend some time in jail.

    But he wasn’t lynched.

    I think that example illustrates the point pretty clearly. Even those of us who climbed our way up against pretty tremendous odds still found footholds that wouldn’t have been there if we were black and didn’t have to deal with some treacherous areas that we would have if we were black.

    I suppose there are exceptions. They’re sociologically irrelevant, though.

    But even if you think that it’s only a substantial minority, not a majority, that benefited unfairly from being white, wouldn’t that STILL be a reason to DO something about it? It seems that you are not only dismissing the bulk of white advantage, but are also acting inconsistently and in a way that advances the interests of whites over the interests of blacks even given what discrimination you do concede happens…

    White people can have plenty of business acumen and can certainly “earn” their wealth, though then we also have to get into hairy questions of government entanglement, remuneration norms (I think that capitalism’s norm of remuneration based on what you can demand is unjust and thus all remuneration in a capitalist society is unjust), etc. etc. But the point is that black folks have plenty of business acumen too, but their trajectories are VERY different…

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  18. “It’s been 15 years, and you’re still bemoaning the Simpson acquittal?”

    Huh? I am not bemoaning it. Do I think that OJ actually did it? Likely yes. But do I think that prosecution got anywhere near “reasonable doubt”? Hell no. He was acquitted appropriately and I was actually complimenting his legal team.

    “In a society steeped in white supremacy, business owners are bound to come across some evaluative tool that appears neutral but really isn’t. If you can’t afford to ensure that you don’t discriminate, you can’t afford to be in business.”

    Really? And what on Earth gives you the right to force that attitude on me? I am not your subordinate and I am not forcing you to enter into business/employment relationship with me.

    This is what I do owe you: I will treat all applicants/candidates (yourself included) equally and apply exact same criteria/requirements for all. I will carefully review each file in its entirety. I will use that criteria/requirements, (clearly spelled out) and no others to make my decisions. If there is a perfect tiebreaker I will draw straws (or run random number generator, whatever).

    This is what I do NOT owe you: a guarantee that you will get the job or, when I am done hiring, my staff will be in perfect proportional correlation to local population on all imaginable “protected classes” you can think of.

    If you believe that the criteria I use are in some way unfair, even though neutral on face, I WILL be willing to take a look at them, search for objective evidence in literature and if convinced, try to come up with something else, (even though I remember vividly since my high school days on that most folks’ reaction when they flunk any test think is “it was unfair”. But I will NOT recognize your right to FORCE me to do any of those things.

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    No1KState Reply:

    I repeat – If you cannot afford to ensure that you do not discriminate, then you cannot afford to be in business.

    I don’t see how that’s an imposition. I didn’t say anything about guarantees of employment, only nondiscrimination. That’s absolutely my right to force you not to deny other equal treatment and opportunity.

    You’re bringing up the question of the fairness of any particular test reminded me of the New Haven firefighter’s case. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the ends and outs and the opinions. But lots of factors come into play besides, for example, IQ. So I repeat again – in a society that’s been steeped in white supremacy, business owners are bound to come across some evaluative tool that appears neutral but really isn’t. If I can prove your criteria is unfair and discriminatory, and a judge agrees with me regardless of your opinion, then you’re gonna have to find a different set of criteria. If you can’t afford to do so, you can’t afford to be in business.

    And from what I remember of high school on is that several “standardized” tests have been shown/proven biased against people of color. The stereotype threat has been demonstrated over and over again. Then, of course, there’re grading curves and teachers’ biases. I’ve even seen standards lowered or broadened to pass or award more white students.

    That aside, yes it’s true that lots of times, people are just whining.

    I apologize for unfairly characterizing your thoughts on the Simpson case. It’s just so common to still hear complaints, I just assumed. My bad.

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  19. There is not white person in America who’s not been privileged by racism/discrimination. Move have worked just as hard as anyone else, I’m not suggested they haven’t – but they’ve always had a little extra wind at their backs.

    Can we accept that many white people have worked hard to accomplish things, and that those people’s accomplishments were made possible in part because they were white in a white-supremacist society? Like almost everyone, I have overcome certain hardships in my life. I have worked hard to get where I am, and I work hard to stay there. But to feel good about myself and my work, I do not have to believe that “merit” alone, as defined by white people in a white-supremacist country, got me here. I can acknowledge that in addition to all that hard work, I got a significant boost from white privilege, which continues to protect me every day of my life from certain hardships.

    At one time in my life, I would not have been able to say that, because I needed to believe that my success in life was due solely to my individual talent and effort. I saw myself as the heroic American, the rugged individualist. I was so deeply seduced by the culture’s mythology that I couldn’t see the fear that was binding me to those myths, the fear that maybe I didn’t really deserve my success, that maybe luck and privilege had more to do with it than brains and hard work. I was afraid I wasn’t heroic or rugged, that I wasn’t special.

    Robert Jensen – http://www.alternet.org/story/37569/race_is_always_part_of_the_story/?page=entire

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  20. “Really? And what on Earth gives you the right to force that attitude on me? I am not your subordinate and I am not forcing you to enter into business/employment relationship with me. ”

    I think he was saying from a purely self-interest perspective, that

    That having been said: The fact that you’re in our country, playing by our rules. This idea that economic rights are absolute and everything else takes second place is so absurd and blatantly immoral that it is only because of our society’s institutions that it’s taken over. I’m not saying that one can’t reasonably defend people’s economic rights or rights under a free market. (I don’t think a free market should exist, but I can see how others could differ). But I am saying that just saying, “What right do you have?” in response to every ecological, anti-discrimination, etc. regulation is not only grotesque, but horribly inconsistent even with basic tenets of libertarian philosophy.

    “This is what I do NOT owe you: a guarantee that you will get the job or, when I am done hiring, my staff will be in perfect proportional correlation to local population on all imaginable “protected classes” you can think of.”

    But if they’re not even close, far beyond what we’d expect given random chance, then we can be sure that what you did owe us, a policy that gives everyone an even chance, has not been implemented. That’s the fundamental logic of res ipsa loquitur: Some things are so obviously a mistake that we don’t need to quibble any further. And some, I’d argue at least a plurality if not a majority, of companies, are so egregiously and clearly discriminating that we can be sure that they’re not complying with the law.

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  21. Thanks for thoughtful replies, Frederick

    “I have never once heard, and I suspect you can’t find, a case where the plaintiffs just SAID “Discrimination happened, prove that it didn’t” and the defense had to prove a negative. What happens is that plaintiffs allege discriminatory impact and cite reams of evidence to prove it. Companies then claim good intent or debate the facts, but that’s not shifting the burden of proof.”

    No, of course nobody can simply say that discrimination happened and end there. My point is that once the plaintiff statistically proves “disparate impact”, the “default” assumption is that it was due to intentional discrimination and now it is up to defendant to prove that it was not and the criteria in question were of direct and immediate business necessity. This is difficult enough because the area is quite subjective and remember that even if they succeed this is not over. Now they have to prove that there were no alternatives which would NOT result in disparate impact.

    “Actually, it’s always a mix. To be white in our society is 99.9% of the time an advantage. So to be white is to have white privilege. When I go to a job interview, I don’t have to do anything special to have white privilege. I just do.
    Basically, both white and black folks have plenty of talent, intelligence and hard work distributed among their members. But for people of color, or women, or the poor, that talent, intelligence or hard work is going to take them less
    Tim points out an example in White Like Me. In it, he describes a self-made man who he actually admits did struggle against pretty severe odds and made it despite those odds. Impressive enough, right?
    Except the guy got accused, falsely, of raping a woman in the South.
    Now, the guy did spend some time in jail.
    But he wasn’t lynched.
    I think that example illustrates the point pretty clearly. Even those of us who climbed our way up against pretty tremendous odds still found footholds that wouldn’t have been there if we were black and didn’t have to deal with some treacherous areas that we would have if we were black.”

    This is the issue, Frederick (and Tim, too):

    After reading your posts/essays for a few years now I think I see you POV quite clearly – everyone has some racist/stereotypical notions, however unconscious they may be and everyone who is white is in some way the beneficiary of white privilege. You also lament often that most whites in USA do not accept this easily or at all. Here is my $0.02 I came here almost 20 years ago, with my parents, with exactly $100 per person and no other assets. I had to deal with plenty of rabid anti-Jewish hatred all my life and, mind you, “Jewishness” was determined by blood, not religious affiliation (if you had any). I had a notion there here things of that nature would not matter, if you work hard. I worked my ass through college, and med school, postponing pretty much all typical fun. Everyone else (and above all those spoiled old-money brats) was into sex/booze/rock-n-roll. I had little time for anything besides study and jobs. Yes, it paid off in the end. The promise was fulfilled.

    To this you will say that I still had advantages in college, med school, residency, job search etc due to my white skin. In essence you are asking me and folks like me to take blame for, and fight against, the system I never created, propped or supported, system which was firmly in place way before I was even born or stepped on this soil. Do you see why winning support is not easy?

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    YC Reply:

    To this you will say that I still had advantages in college, med school, residency, job search etc due to my white skin. In essence you are asking me and folks like me to take blame for, and fight against, the system I never created, propped or supported, system which was firmly in place way before I was even born or stepped on this soil. Do you see why winning support is not easy?

    NY Libertarian, there’s is no one alive today who created the systems of privilege and oppression we presently live with in the United States. We didn’t invent racism, or sexism, or antisemitism, or homophobia, or any system that determines life and death for people in this country. So no one is asking you or anyone else to “take blame” for these systems.

    But blame and guilt isn’t the point. The reason why we should fight to end oppression and the privileges that reinforce this very real harm is because they are wrong, period. If I see someone attempting to harm you, I should do everything in my power to stop them, right? Do you care that I am not the person who is hurting you? No. Ending racism and all systems of oppression is the same idea.

    Don’t you expect all people to fight anti-Jewish oppression, whether they are Jewish or not? I sure do, and I hope you do too.

    Did you invent white privilege? I know you didn’t. But I still expect you to recognize unearned privilege and stop it in its tracks when you see it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask of another human being.

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    Frederic Christie Reply:

    “This is the issue, Frederick (and Tim, too):

    After reading your posts/essays for a few years now I think I see you POV quite clearly – everyone has some racist/stereotypical notions, however unconscious they may be and everyone who is white is in some way the beneficiary of white privilege. You also lament often that most whites in USA do not accept this easily or at all. Here is my $0.02 I came here almost 20 years ago, with my parents, with exactly $100 per person and no other assets. I had to deal with plenty of rabid anti-Jewish hatred all my life and, mind you, “Jewishness” was determined by blood, not religious affiliation (if you had any). I had a notion there here things of that nature would not matter, if you work hard. I worked my ass through college, and med school, postponing pretty much all typical fun. Everyone else (and above all those spoiled old-money brats) was into sex/booze/rock-n-roll. I had little time for anything besides study and jobs. Yes, it paid off in the end. The promise was fulfilled.

    To this you will say that I still had advantages in college, med school, residency, job search etc due to my white skin. In essence you are asking me and folks like me to take blame for, and fight against, the system I never created, propped or supported, system which was firmly in place way before I was even born or stepped on this soil. Do you see why winning support is not easy?”

    Oh, absolutely, NY. But same with libertarianism. Why should I, if I’m poor, fight against the state when they give me bread and circuses? Ditto if I’m rich? Your claim would be that we are all harmed by government impositions, even ones that seem superficially beneficial. (And I’d agree, within a certain range).

    So the same thing applies here. It is our obligation. It is our problem as a community. And the costs of continuing to pass forward this blood money are not worth it.

    So I definitely am struggling to get by, to pay rent and find a job. But I am damn well aware that I still have it easier. Your immigrant status changes things, but still, you have the privilege of being able to belong, to assimilate, in ways that black folks transaprently don’t.

    “No, of course nobody can simply say that discrimination happened and end there. My point is that once the plaintiff statistically proves “disparate impact”, the “default” assumption is that it was due to intentional discrimination and now it is up to defendant to prove that it was not and the criteria in question were of direct and immediate business necessity. This is difficult enough because the area is quite subjective and remember that even if they succeed this is not over. Now they have to prove that there were no alternatives which would NOT result in disparate impact.”

    And I think that’s fair. If I’m bleeding and you’re standing over me with blood on your fist, it’s YOUR job to explain how that happened. Maybe I attacked you. Maybe we were playing around and it was an accident. But we no longer have the burden of guilt.

    Of course, the business always has the recourse of proving that there was no discriminatory impact. If they can’t do that, I don’t feel that bad when they have to document claims of good intent and find it difficult. They’ve been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, and need to pay up…

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  22. I’m a little late to the party, but thought I’d let you know the essay and/or blog is now “private”

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    Tim Reply:

    Oh yeah, thanks for letting me know…I forgot that the website owner was changing sites…I need to look at where she told me it was going to be and make the change…

    [Reply]

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