2010-11-21

Unthinking privilege

At one point I had applied for a position as Reader at one of the local universities. During the interview I was asked how I proposed to handle diversity. I responded that I was a white male engineer (with blue eyes and speaking Stockholm Swedish), so I would certainly be at a disadvantage in that respect. While I may attempt to consider diversity issues, it is by necessity a conscious, intellectual effort, as I belong to the privileged part of humanity and seldom need to think about this.

Mark Chu-Carroll has written an insightful comment on how one, enlightened and liberal as one may be, through upbringing and a constant barrage of threat projections, has so many ingrained behaviours and reactions going counter to one’s stated standpoint.

The point is not that a person, claiming to be, say, a feminist, yet will behave in a sexist manner, is necessarily a hypocrite, but that behaving in a correct manner requires effort. During my first year studies in mathematics, I learned that one cannot simplifying an equation by dividing both halves by an unknown quantity, since that unknown might be 0, so one has to partition the solution into two cases, one for the case = 0, one for the case ≠ 0. I thought this was a huge onus to place on the equation solver. With practice, though, it became a habit and less of an effort to do this. Would that politically correct behaviour can also be internalised by conscious practice of one’s principles.

The price for the liberty of others is constant vigilance on one’s own actions…

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