Thursday, July 28, 2011

What’s Culture? Bias and Discrimination.

“Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized” -- Benjamin Haydon (1786-1846)
Educators, businessmen and politicians worry about cultural conflict -- it fouls up their agendas: it interferes with schooling, commerce and government. The primary cause of cultural conflict they have fallen into the bad habit of characterizing as “bias and discrimination.” They have taken two good words and transformed them into muddled slogans.

Their real concerns are with “unjust bias” or “unjust discrimination.” By trying to dodge a discussion on what constitutes such injustices, they undermine real solutions to the problems they face. Or perhaps the real issue is that they want to ram their particular, self-serving “solutions” down our throats.

In general, a bias involves a deviation from an expectation, a standard or a point of reference. It need not be an injustice or even undesirable. For example, a dress designer may want a certain cloth cut “on the bias.” Or, the aim of Special Education is to get us to accept certain biases in favor of persons with disabilities.

Discrimination involves, most generally, making a distinction. Again, it need not be an injustice or even undesirable. Driving safely requires us to discriminate between red and green lights.

Different cultures exist because the histories of various peoples are different: they are brought up with different expectations, standards and reference points. These may, in practice, lead to conflicts. They needn’t always do so, if approached with a serious mind.

For references and to examine these issues further, see The Limits and Possibilities of Multiculturalism

--- EGR