I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I usually gloss over headlines like “Home Depot Embraces Sharia Law” and for once actually decided to see what was being blown out of proportion myself. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, one Home Depot in an area with a large Muslim population decided to educate their employees so they could better serve that particular sub-group of customers. One article on it asks if a business shouldn’t be trying to better serve all of its customers. Of course it should–it’s never wise to upset your clientele when they have other options–but that doesn’t mean the best way to serve one customer is the best way to serve every customer.
This is a familiar form of privilege distress, which is often described as being preferential treatment. People often ask why we need a Department of Women’s Health, or a Black History Month, and when we can get a Department of Men’s Health and a White History month. But these things are not an attempt to give preferential treatment to those groups of people, they’re meant to counter the centuries of ignorance that has surrounded them. Women’s health has long been ignored, to the detriment of women being treated by doctors whose knowledge of medicine is based primarily on male physiology. History, it is said, is written by the victors, or perhaps more accurately the ruling class, and that has long meant white men in our part of the world. We don’t need a White History Month because essentially that’s EVERY month. This can be seen over and over again, in virtually every arena where acknowledgements of inequality exists. The privileged group wonders why they don’t get such special treatment without realizing that special treatment towards them is the default mode of operations. Everything is already geared towards what suits them best, but that state of affairs is invisible because it’s the default.
Treating people equally often requires recognizing and accounting for differences. If you randomly started handing out peanut butter sandwiches to strangers, you’d have a number of people grateful for the free sandwich, but others would wind up sick because they’re allergic to peanuts. While the action towards both groups is the same, the results are quite different and certainly cannot be considered equal. Offering those with an allergy a tuna sandwich instead is a different action, but it is more equal than only offering food they can’t eat.