So what–Essentialism

Last week I talked about how social justice movements all boils down to one thing–treating individuals as people first. One common argument against doing so is the essentialist one–“Women are better at socialising,” that sort of thing.  Now, there’s plenty of reasons why this argument fails and I’m not going to get into them today, but instead I’m going to assume that there are significant differences between groups of people.

So what?

Why does that negate treating (insert oppressed group here) as people? If those differences really are there, then trying to be more equal will still result in unequal results. So what is there to lose?

It’s for this reason that I’ve concluded that essentialists are afraid. They’re afraid of finding out that they’re wrong, and they’re not really on the top of the heap. See, deep down they know they have it good, regardless of if they consciously acknowledge it. They have things easier, and it allows them to pretend that they’re better than other people. Equality erases that advantage, and those with privilege who aren’t so great will find themselves displaced by people who were formerly oppressed who are more capable.

We like to think we live in a meritocracy, but we don’t. There are too many unspoken assumptions, too many unconscious biases, too many systemic issues that prevent that. Sometimes someone manages to climb up from the bottom of the heap–more often, those at the bottom are too busy trying not to slide down further to work on climbing up. And often it’s because of things they can’t control. Think of the social ladder as a curve.  At the beginning the curve is steep, making it harder to climb but easy to slide down. The closer to the top you get the flatter the curve becomes, making it far easier for a person to maintain their place. There’s many reasons why those born at the top tend to stay there, and vice versa, and actual ability is a minor part of it.


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