March 31, 2016

Destabilizing the Establishment

Courtesy of Sarah Komanapalli

There are countless movements working toward equality in American society today, including the Black Lives Matter movement as well as feminist and LGBTQ+ rights movements. All of these groups call on politicians and the more generalized “establishment” to recognize their rights. This establishment is often associated with white, cisgender men, and rightfully so. The process of integration into society for groups that aren’t made of white, cisgender men has been slow in part because, for some, integration is not the desired outcome. Instead, they focus on what sets them apart from members of the “establishment.” These marginalized groups, however, would benefit more by trying to change their public perception; it is imperative that they convince the establishment that there is no fundamental difference between them. In doing so, they would be able to more effectively dissolve the barrier that gives way to the systemic oppression that they face.

This is, for some, a scary proposition. Often, these groups feel that maintaining, recognizing, or even celebrating their differences is paramount for group cohesion. In order for feminism to maintain a strong core of female support, for example, they must keep the concept of female identity as a central part of the movement. However, as long as these groups continue to frame their respective movements as opposed to the establishment, which can seem inherently opposed to them, progress cannot be made. There is nothing inherent to being a straight white male that pits you against women, people of color, or those in the LGBTQ+ community—it is the arbitrary delegation of power conferred by society onto these groups that causes these rifts. Therefore, these groups should focus on obtaining the structural power that they don’t currently have access to. In order to do this, the gap between these groups and the group in power must be closed, not widened.

Power is not a zero-sum game—groups can gain power while other groups maintain their level of power. With a more balanced societal structure, white men would lose dominance, but the hiring practices, respect of individual rights, and other “privileges” they currently enjoy can be maintained even as other groups gain those same rights. It’s not that white men enjoy a life that is undeservedly good; rather, marginalized groups do not have a life that is good enough. In order to fix the inequality, marginalized groups should be raised to the status enjoyed by these establishment players. This requires a dissolution of any “us vs. them” mentality. There is no fundamental reason or logic to explain why certain groups are marginalized or why the establishment is what it is. White men hold power not because of anything inherently better about them but because the society we live in is structured that way. Once everyone comes to accept that it is not the fundamental characteristics of the oppressors that cause the inequality of the oppressed, we can move toward dismantling the social institutions and systems in place that promote inequality.

So long as groups of people are separated, equality and fairness cannot exist. Bias is an inherent part of group identity. If you identify with somebody, then you are more likely to give them preferential treatment. This much we have seen through hiring standards: white men like to hire white men (look to the tech industry or Wall Street to see evidence of this). This is, in part, due to the fact that they identify with the other person on a socially derived (though ultimately arbitrary) basis. There is no evidence to suggest that there is a direct link between a person’s biological identity and their ability to work or perform as well. To put it bluntly, more white men are hired because white men enjoy an elevated social standing, not because they are necessarily better applicants.

This type of logic extends to all facets of American life. White men do not deserve any more rights than any other group, but they enjoy more rights because they are a politically salient group who want to help each other out. This may sound innocuous, but it has become painfully obvious that this is a recipe for inequality. Once other groups achieve equal status, they must convince their base of support to dissolve the notion of difference or uniqueness to avoid the division that leads to inequality. White men will have to look at a wider range of people and be able to identify with them, just as those people will need to see the similarities they share with white men. As gratifying as it is to have a unique struggle recognized, that cannot be the final step in the process of achieving equality. The next step is to integrate minorities into the majority. This is no easy task, and it will take time in order to fully dismantle these established lines. Nonetheless, it is important to do so. It is only when everybody is able to join the establishment that the establishment ceases to exist.

Andrew Nicotra Reilly is a second-year in the College double majoring in economics and political science.

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